The Last Days of O Week for 1972 Magazine

Orientation Week in Dunedin

 

Oooweee. This feature appeared in the Autumn/Winter, 2015, edition of 1972 magazine, and chronicled my journey to the heart of Scarfie culture for O Week. After being featured on Metro magazine's website and shared to a student group on Facebook, the piece received massive social media attention, racking up thousands of views and Like's in a single evening. Since the story was published, several infamous student bars have been shut down, and police and council continue to pressure student culture. What happens from here is blurry.

-

W‌hen a party is really cranking, you can hear it long before you see it. At first it’s like putting your ear up to a sea shell, a low and distant rumble. Then the bass comes through; dark, palpitating 808 trap beats. Snatches of conversation, avian caws, aggressive synthesizers and syncopated hi-hats give the scene some top-end. Chuck in the sound of breaking glass, a burning couch and a few crying girls, and you are on Dunedin’s Hyde Street on the first Saturday of Orientation Week, 2015.

Home to an annual keg race attended by upwards of 3000 costumed ravers, Hyde Street is the spiritual centre of Dunedin’s uni lifestyle. On the night in question, more than a thousand students swarmed, clogging the small one-lane road, spilling from windows and perching on roofs like gargoyles.

Pulsating strobe lights glinted from the crushed glass that powdered the street and cigarette fireflies danced from a hundred mouths to a hundred hands. Older, senior students reunited with abandon; “It’s fucking good to be back in Dunnaz.”

First years, ‘freshers’, mingled awkwardly, sticking out with the nervous, self-aware smiles of undercover cops. Actual police patrolled here and there, surprisingly at ease, sharing jokes with revellers and turning an occasional blind eye to well-intentioned shenanigans. “Party students blamed for leaving Dunedin street ‘like the Third World’” read the Sunday morning headlines.

Dunedin’s student life is a cultural reference point on every level of the national psyche. Feared, loathed, adored and in some cases worshipped to a frightening extent, everyone has their own vague idea of what constitutes life in that strange Celtic hangover in the South Island.

I had my own conclusions: cold, grey, terrible rugby team, worse beer. Things like that. There’s a residual idea of Dunedin as a place for munters from Invercargill and people who couldn’t get into Auckland Uni. But those are empty, tired stereotypes.

What’s really going on down there? Who are these maniacs who brave freezing conditions, perilous, alcohol-fueled antics and squalid living conditions? And do dark rumors of a cultural decline, whispered amongst returning students, have substance? So many questions, and only one way to find out for certain.

A pilgrimage, of sorts. A journey to the altar of intoxication. Putting brain and body on the line in the name of truth, youth and a hell of a good time.

I would journey South, covering the 1300 kilometres by car in a mad dash to make the opening night of O-Week, 2015. Eating, drinking and living as a student, with all of the enthusiasm and none of the assignments. To understand this kind of culture, you don’t consult dry academics or pour over tomes of research by candlelight. No, it has to be felt.

“Bro, are you actually going to be able to write about any of this shit?” asked Angus Hellen, a fourth year surveying student and my best friend from birth.

It was a fair question, standing thumbs out as we were on the side of the main and only road out of Rakaia. Our ride, a borrowed Toyota Carib, sat motionless outside a distant garage.

Our gear remained in the boot, hidden under a picnic blanket and a coleslaw-and pastrami-covered beach towel. We brought with us just the essentials: clothes, a bottle of bourbon, a camera, a couple of cigarettes and two bottles of ginger beer for positive vibes.

“I dunno,” I said. “I hope the car’s not too fucked.”

It had been an eventful journey. Three days out from Hamilton and we had slept maybe one full night between us. Our arrival in Wellington on the first evening was enthusiastic, and as the city turned grey with the first threat of daylight we found ourselves on the 9th-story balcony of a cheap hotel apartment, just near the museum.

“I’m actually an official Lord,” a strung-out young guy in a bad suit raved, brandishing his debit card at arms length. “See?” he demanded. There it was – Lord David Thompson. “My ex bought me a bit of land in Scotland, you could totally do it too. I could show you how to do it if you wanted to do it.”

“Far out,” I said, swaying, a bit but unimpressed. “Wait, Kurt, when’s the ferry?”

“Two hours bro.”

“Shit.”

Like a dark cloud, we rolled South, stopping for no man or beast. Through the Marlborough Sounds and on to Nelson, hoping to rejuvenate in the lakes there at the northernmost point of the Southern Alps. But the collective willpower of the group burned away under the merciless midday sun, and two hours out we re-routed to Blenheim.

After a night at The Grapevines, a backpackers’ lodge run by a short Irish guy, we continued onwards, sweeping down the East coast. On the left, the Pacific Ocean glimmered: here calm; there smashing against the rocks; always vast and humbling.

Past the seal colonies of Kaikoura and deeper into the Northern Canterbury Plains we drove. Barren, ashy hills rose above conspicuously lush vineyards. Sedimented, briny creeks crawled through cracked riverbeds to the sea, catching here and there on the occasional bit of tyre or old shoe. As the scenery dried out, so too did our good humor.

“It’s alright, we’ll just get to this dude’s flat in Christchurch, lax out, and head down to Dunedin tomorrow,” Angus said, probably to assure himself as much as anyone in the car.

“Bro, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” said Kurt. “Christchurch flats are worse than Dunedin flats. They’re scummy as.”

T‌he first thing that stuck out was the bus. Parked diagonally across the front yard of a small Christchurch townhouse occupied by 13 students, the bus was 12 metres of maroon-and-white bad news. Old bench seats and internal panelling were heaped on the driveway outside. The skeleton of a couch smouldered quietly.

We spent a long night in the bus, huddled on mattresses. Outside hundreds of people milled about on psychotropics, chanting. Halfway in a dream, I watched emergency lights dance across the smoke hanging in the roof of the bus. A first year student had jumped from the roof and snapped his leg. The paramedics had come to dose him up a little more and take him off to hospital.

Christchurch was grey as we made our preparations the next morning. The boys from the flat sat around a lone wooden picnic table; the other two ash in a brazier. A disoriented guy in a black t shirt and trucker cap leaned back in his chair, fresh Speights in hand.

“I’m glad I can take a dump now that I’m not scared to look myself in the mirror,” he said from behind his sunglasses. “You guys want a line of caffeine?” offered another, holding up a kilogram bag of caffeine anhydrous like some fish monger at market. “It’s like having like 35 coffees. Don’t have too much though, anything more than a teaspoon and you might have a heart attack.”

It was time to leave. We could make Dunedin by mid-afternoon. Thirty minutes later, we were stranded outside Rakaia.

Angus hitchhiking outside Rakaia.

‌There are upwards of 20,000 people at the University of Otago, and the majority come from elsewhere. Like salmon heading for the spawning ponds, freshers through to fourth years make their way back, timing cars, boats, busses and planes as to arrive in the middle of February, ready for O-Week.

The Otago University Student’s Association promotes a number of concerts and other events to get things flowing. It’s a chance to make new friends and get to know the people with whom you’ll spend the next few years living closely. Of course, these are students, many of them away from home for the first time in their lives, and they’re ready to cut loose. For seven days and seven nights the party rages, effectively shutting down North Dunedin.

“My first O-Week was pretty intimidating.” That’s Earl Crowley, now in his last of four years studying marketing and finance. “It was like walking into another world, where getting absolutely destroyed to the point of no return wasn’t just the norm, it was to be expected.”

“O-Week is loose,” Angus told me as the five-hundredth van of disapproving holiday makers drove past us, eyes forward. “You’re going to see some pretty out-of-it stuff.”

“Yea? How so?”

“It’s the biggest week of the year. The freshers are all at the toga party, and paint party, and things like that, but everyone else is partying at their new flats. That’s what Dunedin is about. The flats are what makes it,” he says. “Wait, here’s a ride.”

A white Honda minivan had pulled over 20 odd metres down the road. The yaps of a small dog could be heard from inside. Her name was Molly, and she was white with permanent tear stains under her eyes. I sat in the back, my feet hovering awkwardly over pamphlets scattered across the floor.

While Angus made idle chat, I snatched a glance at the paperwork. “Dealing with the suicide of a loved one,” read the front of one purple letter. Maybe that explains the dog?

From Ashburton we switched track, riding with a pair of Brazilian dairy farmers with suspiciously red eyes.

“You see all this land around you?” asked Juan, the driver. “It’s an illusion. You don’t own your country, man. The banks do.”

Juan’s eyes were glued to the rear-view mirror, searching for something in our expressions. I guess we both kind of agreed with him, but what was there to say? It was a relief when our last ride from Winchester kept the conversation on easy ground; rugby, beer, girls.

As the sun began to set, and the light left the church spires across the city, we reached Dunedin. After two cars, a boat and 1300 kilometres, it was time to get down.

In the corner of Union and Queen streets sits the Mella Casa. Built into a hill, the third story is connected to Queen street by a perilous and rusted walkway. Several metres below, a beer pong table sits on marshy ground, one end significantly higher than the other, alongside a couple seats and an old mattress.

This is the first year that the top storey has been accessible from inside, after a barricade was torn down from the internal stairwell. Ornate, pressed metal ceilings soar in every room.

Thirteen dudes live in the Mella Casa, significantly outnumbering bedrooms. Mostly surfers with short beards and long hair, their boards are strewn throughout the house. The lounge sits high above the street outside. On one wall is a giant poster. A man in dress shirt and pants is riding a picturesque wave, and somebody has drawn an impressive joint hanging from his mouth.

On the night we arrived, spirits were high. Joe Palmer, youngest of the 13 residents, had taken out a local surf comp earlier in the day. The trophy sat atop the central heating unit, the icon of this particular church. Palmer and the award were looked on with equal approval as celebrations intensified and the lounge filled with cigarette smoke.

“Joe’s the young buck of this flat,” Angus told me. “They’re all frothing on this trophy. We better go get some beers.”

Contrary to most of the country, where flatmates are the people you complain about to your friends when you’re out drinking, in Dunedin your flat becomes your family. Thousands of kilometres from home, it’s important to create a support network for the inevitable tough times. When the noodles are gone, the pantry is empty and you can’t quite afford a box of Southern Gold.

The majority of student flats are in North Dunedin, where entire streets are lined with aging houses, all in various states of disrepair. Couches with torn upholstery and broken legs lay about here and there, jutting from bushes and perched on roofs. There’s a pride in the squalor, though, and the flats have names, signs and an identity. The Duke St Dog Pound, The Yeast, The Gaybox, Boogie Nites, The Aviary, The Lean, The Black Coq, even the iconic Six60 Castle Street, womb of the band Six60. The flats are more than just accommodation: they’re meeting halls, reference points and even concert venues.

Skivvy Jon, a double major in law and psychology, runs an occasional Friday night comedy show in Dunedin.

“I used to study in Wellington, and one night I went on a date to a comedy show,” he says. “By the end of the date, I knew I didn’t like the girl but I really liked stand-up. When I moved to Dunedin I was so pleased to be here, but I was also itching for comedy.”

With an ingrained tradition of Thursday and Saturday nights being dedicated to drinking, students typically take Friday off, congregating for less intensive intoxicants and entertainment. Skivvy Jon saw an opportunity.

“I thought, what would be better than mates, a lounge, some cushions, a few beers and some comedy? So I scammed the living room at Boogie Nites in October last year. Straight away I was like ‘holy shit, this flat thing is cool’.”

The geographic proximity of most of the iconic flats, as well as a lack of liquor ban on the streets, mean that it’s realistic for large groups to move about on foot, washing up to events like a flood.

“There were maybe 80 people in Boogie. There were people on shelves, just total gargoyles. People all over the floor. There might have been a few people smoking doobies. But it was cool, they were just humming for it, and nobody minded being a bit squished so that their mates could get in on it. It’s the sort of environment you just can’t have in a bar.”

This is typical of the special kind of community in Dunedin. Not community in the sense of strangers who happen to live in the same area, but as a shared ethos, a similar worldview, and a tangible feeling of camaraderie.

Former All Black Josh Kronfeld was baptised in the frigid Southern waters of scarfie culture. I spoke to him by phone after I returned, tissues and painkillers strewn across my desk. He says his time at the University of Otago laid the foundations for the rest of his life.

“There’s an amazing energy in Dunedin. There’s an opportunity to feel a kindred spirit, a bond with all kinds of people from all different walks of life. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, you grow as an individual.

“You know, People go to Otago Uni because they know they can get a quality education, but also at the same time experience something you just can’t anywhere else in the world.”

But while some things remain the same from Kronfeld’s early experiences in Dunedin, other things have changed. In particular, combined police and council efforts have pressured the university into taking a harder line on student behaviour.

“I understand it,” says Kronfeld. “It’s a different world now, and there’s a difference in police culture. But they’re taking these pivotal moments away from people. The big parties, Leith Street, Hyde Street, that sort of thing, those are the times that you take home with you.”

Skivvy Jon believes that events like the flat comedy shows are vital to Dunedin’s student culture.

“This scene is being attacked from every angle,” he says. “The council are trying to push the liquor ban into North Dunedin, bars like The Captain Cook and Gardies are being shut down. Student ingenuity is what will keep the culture alive. And it needs to be preserved, because it’s totally unique.”

IMG_4157

I‌’m an honest writer, and I honestly think that ‌even attempting objectivity here would be distasteful. I didn’t experience O-Week through binoculars from a safe distance behind the wire, and I’d be embarrassed if I did. The only way to describe what it’s like to hold down a sour mouthful of tequila and vomit at the bar of a student pub is to have felt it. Once is enough though – you’d be a masochist to want to choke down the briny froth of cheap tequila spew any more than necessary.

They’re a special breed of freak in Dunedin, though, and it takes some serious endurance to even stay in sight of them, let alone keep up. Perhaps their digestive systems have devolved to some bovine state, capable of surviving on the sustenance of mi goreng ramen noodles and cheap bourbon RTDs, but mine hasn’t. I spent a long night with my head in a garden listening to the sirens across the city and trying to stop the world from spinning. I began to fade.

One night, perched on a garage roof, blood dripping from a cut finger, I felt absolutely capable of clearing a picnic table and landing in the concrete alleyway below, so long as I missed a pile of spew and comatose guy in the shadows. With police barricades at both ends of Hyde Street, it was our only way in. Then the brutal multi-day hangovers started setting in. A certain level of paranoia and angst is natural after several nights of partying with intent, but I tried to remind myself that my blackening thoughts weren’t the only way to perceive the world. By the end I couldn’t even handle using someone else’s soap.

As we got deeper into O-Week, days and nights began to blend. Much of what happened can’t be reported here without putting my livelihood at risk, but suffice to say some of it was illegal and most of it distasteful. The progress of time was marked by the chiming of church bells and the growing pile of empties by the front door. In the news, the council threatened to extend the liquor ban to include one particular house after a flatmate jumped from a balcony onto a noise control officer.

Following several big parties on Hyde Street, an unnamed grad student complained that this year’s residents were the worst and most riotous yet. Meanwhile, the fire service was warning students that setting something on fire inside a house could be considered arson.

But the stories that ran during O Week painted an incomplete picture of what was really going down on a daily basis. Admittedly, one night I did watch a drunk girl in boots kick out the panes of a bathroom window, splintering the frame and all, but that was an exception.

Even after five days’ consecutive binging, there was very little malice in what anyone was doing. It had been nearly a week of extreme drinking, and yet still the lines outside the liquor stores were relatively calm, despite the DJs who played from carpark booths. There was no aggression, and an incredible lack of judgement or animosity.

Lost and blinded by gin one cold night, I searched an unfamiliar flat for someone who knew where we were. From room to room I stumbled into numerous circles of anonymous tweakers, sitting around powdered mirrors like ouija boards, trying to summon one last drip of serotonin. Blinking like owls, they’d offer refreshments “Oh, hey man, want a line?”

Awfully generous. In the early hours of the morning we watched a circle of naked guys drum on cardboard boxes, genitals flopping around to the beat, and nobody batted an eye. The next day, someone urinated in their own mouth. It wasn’t a big deal. “Wash your beard bro,” said one guy, “We’re about to go out.” I asked Angus what was going on, why were people so nice?

“Everyone is at the same place in Dunedin,” he said. “They’re sort of coming of age, and experimenting. People just do whatever, and nobody gives them a hard time really.”

T‌here is no such thing in life as a biological free lunch. It was on the plane home that I first realised that, as my throat started to itch and my eyes got hot. Descending to Auckland Airport, I thought that maybe a failed landing would be the easy way out of what felt like the beginnings of a serious viral battle. How could I communicate what I had seen and experienced? What did it even all amount to?

My notebook was filled with scrawlings in red and blue and sharpie but 4am epiphanies and universal moments of truth seemed almost naive under the cabin lights of a Jetstar flight. Without the taste of cigarette and the smell of spilt whiskey and the sound of too much bass, obvious conclusions about Dunedin’s student culture don’t make as much sense.

What remained with me through my week-long flu, and even till now, is an appreciation for the genuine positivity and warmth of the country’s supposed delinquents. Despite what you see on the news, I think student culture around New Zealand could afford to become a lot more like Dunedin, not less. As Josh Kronfeld, and so many others told me, in their own way, “It’s a special place to be young.”

The Last Days of O Week for 1972 Magazine

Orientation Week in Dunedin Oooweee. This feature appeared in the Autumn/Winter, 2015, edition of 1972 magazine, and chronicled my journey to the heart of Scarfie culture for O Week. After being featured on Metro magazine's website and shared to a student group on Facebook, the piece received massive social media attention, racking up thousands of views and Like's in a single evening. Since the story was published, several infamous student bars have been shut down, and police and council continue to pressure student culture. What happens from here is blurry.

-

W‌hen a party is really cranking, you can hear it long before you see it. At first it’s like putting your ear up to a sea shell, a low and distant rumble. Then the bass comes through; dark, palpitating 808 trap beats. Snatches of conversation, avian caws, aggressive synthesizers and syncopated hi-hats give the scene some top-end. Chuck in the sound of breaking glass, a burning couch and a few crying girls, and you are on Dunedin’s Hyde Street on the first Saturday of Orientation Week, 2015.

Home to an annual keg race attended by upwards of 3000 costumed ravers, Hyde Street is the spiritual centre of Dunedin’s uni lifestyle. On the night in question, more than a thousand students swarmed, clogging the small one-lane road, spilling from windows and perching on roofs like gargoyles.

Pulsating strobe lights glinted from the crushed glass that powdered the street and cigarette fireflies danced from a hundred mouths to a hundred hands. Older, senior students reunited with abandon; “It’s fucking good to be back in Dunnaz.”

First years, ‘freshers’, mingled awkwardly, sticking out with the nervous, self-aware smiles of undercover cops. Actual police patrolled here and there, surprisingly at ease, sharing jokes with revellers and turning an occasional blind eye to well-intentioned shenanigans. “Party students blamed for leaving Dunedin street ‘like the Third World’” read the Sunday morning headlines.

Dunedin’s student life is a cultural reference point on every level of the national psyche. Feared, loathed, adored and in some cases worshipped to a frightening extent, everyone has their own vague idea of what constitutes life in that strange Celtic hangover in the South Island.

I had my own conclusions: cold, grey, terrible rugby team, worse beer. Things like that. There’s a residual idea of Dunedin as a place for munters from Invercargill and people who couldn’t get into Auckland Uni. But those are empty, tired stereotypes.

What’s really going on down there? Who are these maniacs who brave freezing conditions, perilous, alcohol-fueled antics and squalid living conditions? And do dark rumors of a cultural decline, whispered amongst returning students, have substance? So many questions, and only one way to find out for certain.

A pilgrimage, of sorts. A journey to the altar of intoxication. Putting brain and body on the line in the name of truth, youth and a hell of a good time.

I would journey South, covering the 1300 kilometres by car in a mad dash to make the opening night of O-Week, 2015. Eating, drinking and living as a student, with all of the enthusiasm and none of the assignments. To understand this kind of culture, you don’t consult dry academics or pour over tomes of research by candlelight. No, it has to be felt.

“Bro, are you actually going to be able to write about any of this shit?” asked Angus Hellen, a fourth year surveying student and my best friend from birth.

It was a fair question, standing thumbs out as we were on the side of the main and only road out of Rakaia. Our ride, a borrowed Toyota Carib, sat motionless outside a distant garage.

Our gear remained in the boot, hidden under a picnic blanket and a coleslaw-and pastrami-covered beach towel. We brought with us just the essentials: clothes, a bottle of bourbon, a camera, a couple of cigarettes and two bottles of ginger beer for positive vibes.

“I dunno,” I said. “I hope the car’s not too fucked.”

It had been an eventful journey. Three days out from Hamilton and we had slept maybe one full night between us. Our arrival in Wellington on the first evening was enthusiastic, and as the city turned grey with the first threat of daylight we found ourselves on the 9th-story balcony of a cheap hotel apartment, just near the museum.

“I’m actually an official Lord,” a strung-out young guy in a bad suit raved, brandishing his debit card at arms length. “See?” he demanded. There it was – Lord David Thompson. “My ex bought me a bit of land in Scotland, you could totally do it too. I could show you how to do it if you wanted to do it.”

“Far out,” I said, swaying, a bit but unimpressed. “Wait, Kurt, when’s the ferry?”

“Two hours bro.”

“Shit.”

Like a dark cloud, we rolled South, stopping for no man or beast. Through the Marlborough Sounds and on to Nelson, hoping to rejuvenate in the lakes there at the northernmost point of the Southern Alps. But the collective willpower of the group burned away under the merciless midday sun, and two hours out we re-routed to Blenheim.

After a night at The Grapevines, a backpackers’ lodge run by a short Irish guy, we continued onwards, sweeping down the East coast. On the left, the Pacific Ocean glimmered: here calm; there smashing against the rocks; always vast and humbling.

Past the seal colonies of Kaikoura and deeper into the Northern Canterbury Plains we drove. Barren, ashy hills rose above conspicuously lush vineyards. Sedimented, briny creeks crawled through cracked riverbeds to the sea, catching here and there on the occasional bit of tyre or old shoe. As the scenery dried out, so too did our good humor.

“It’s alright, we’ll just get to this dude’s flat in Christchurch, lax out, and head down to Dunedin tomorrow,” Angus said, probably to assure himself as much as anyone in the car.

“Bro, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” said Kurt. “Christchurch flats are worse than Dunedin flats. They’re scummy as.”

 

T‌he first thing that stuck out was the bus. Parked diagonally across the front yard of a small Christchurch townhouse occupied by 13 students, the bus was 12 metres of maroon-and-white bad news. Old bench seats and internal panelling were heaped on the driveway outside. The skeleton of a couch smouldered quietly.

We spent a long night in the bus, huddled on mattresses. Outside hundreds of people milled about on psychotropics, chanting. Halfway in a dream, I watched emergency lights dance across the smoke hanging in the roof of the bus. A first year student had jumped from the roof and snapped his leg. The paramedics had come to dose him up a little more and take him off to hospital.

Christchurch was grey as we made our preparations the next morning. The boys from the flat sat around a lone wooden picnic table; the other two ash in a brazier. A disoriented guy in a black t shirt and trucker cap leaned back in his chair, fresh Speights in hand.

“I’m glad I can take a dump now that I’m not scared to look myself in the mirror,” he said from behind his sunglasses. “You guys want a line of caffeine?” offered another, holding up a kilogram bag of caffeine anhydrous like some fish monger at market. “It’s like having like 35 coffees. Don’t have too much though, anything more than a teaspoon and you might have a heart attack.”

It was time to leave. We could make Dunedin by mid-afternoon. Thirty minutes later, we were stranded outside Rakaia.

Angus hitchhiking outside Rakaia.

 

‌There are upwards of 20,000 people at the University of Otago, and the majority come from elsewhere. Like salmon heading for the spawning ponds, freshers through to fourth years make their way back, timing cars, boats, busses and planes as to arrive in the middle of February, ready for O-Week.

The Otago University Student’s Association promotes a number of concerts and other events to get things flowing. It’s a chance to make new friends and get to know the people with whom you’ll spend the next few years living closely. Of course, these are students, many of them away from home for the first time in their lives, and they’re ready to cut loose. For seven days and seven nights the party rages, effectively shutting down North Dunedin.

“My first O-Week was pretty intimidating.” That’s Earl Crowley, now in his last of four years studying marketing and finance. “It was like walking into another world, where getting absolutely destroyed to the point of no return wasn’t just the norm, it was to be expected.”

“O-Week is loose,” Angus told me as the five-hundredth van of disapproving holiday makers drove past us, eyes forward. “You’re going to see some pretty out-of-it stuff.”

“Yea? How so?”

“It’s the biggest week of the year. The freshers are all at the toga party, and paint party, and things like that, but everyone else is partying at their new flats. That’s what Dunedin is about. The flats are what makes it,” he says. “Wait, here’s a ride.”

A white Honda minivan had pulled over 20 odd metres down the road. The yaps of a small dog could be heard from inside. Her name was Molly, and she was white with permanent tear stains under her eyes. I sat in the back, my feet hovering awkwardly over pamphlets scattered across the floor.

While Angus made idle chat, I snatched a glance at the paperwork. “Dealing with the suicide of a loved one,” read the front of one purple letter. Maybe that explains the dog?

From Ashburton we switched track, riding with a pair of Brazilian dairy farmers with suspiciously red eyes.

“You see all this land around you?” asked Juan, the driver. “It’s an illusion. You don’t own your country, man. The banks do.”

Juan’s eyes were glued to the rear-view mirror, searching for something in our expressions. I guess we both kind of agreed with him, but what was there to say? It was a relief when our last ride from Winchester kept the conversation on easy ground; rugby, beer, girls.

As the sun began to set, and the light left the church spires across the city, we reached Dunedin. After two cars, a boat and 1300 kilometres, it was time to get down.

 

In the corner of Union and Queen streets sits the Mella Casa. Built into a hill, the third story is connected to Queen street by a perilous and rusted walkway. Several metres below, a beer pong table sits on marshy ground, one end significantly higher than the other, alongside a couple seats and an old mattress.

This is the first year that the top storey has been accessible from inside, after a barricade was torn down from the internal stairwell. Ornate, pressed metal ceilings soar in every room.

Thirteen dudes live in the Mella Casa, significantly outnumbering bedrooms. Mostly surfers with short beards and long hair, their boards are strewn throughout the house. The lounge sits high above the street outside. On one wall is a giant poster. A man in dress shirt and pants is riding a picturesque wave, and somebody has drawn an impressive joint hanging from his mouth.

On the night we arrived, spirits were high. Joe Palmer, youngest of the 13 residents, had taken out a local surf comp earlier in the day. The trophy sat atop the central heating unit, the icon of this particular church. Palmer and the award were looked on with equal approval as celebrations intensified and the lounge filled with cigarette smoke.

“Joe’s the young buck of this flat,” Angus told me. “They’re all frothing on this trophy. We better go get some beers.”

Contrary to most of the country, where flatmates are the people you complain about to your friends when you’re out drinking, in Dunedin your flat becomes your family. Thousands of kilometres from home, it’s important to create a support network for the inevitable tough times. When the noodles are gone, the pantry is empty and you can’t quite afford a box of Southern Gold.

 

The majority of student flats are in North Dunedin, where entire streets are lined with aging houses, all in various states of disrepair. Couches with torn upholstery and broken legs lay about here and there, jutting from bushes and perched on roofs. There’s a pride in the squalor, though, and the flats have names, signs and an identity. The Duke St Dog Pound, The Yeast, The Gaybox, Boogie Nites, The Aviary, The Lean, The Black Coq, even the iconic Six60 Castle Street, womb of the band Six60. The flats are more than just accommodation: they’re meeting halls, reference points and even concert venues.

Skivvy Jon, a double major in law and psychology, runs an occasional Friday night comedy show in Dunedin.

“I used to study in Wellington, and one night I went on a date to a comedy show,” he says. “By the end of the date, I knew I didn’t like the girl but I really liked stand-up. When I moved to Dunedin I was so pleased to be here, but I was also itching for comedy.”

With an ingrained tradition of Thursday and Saturday nights being dedicated to drinking, students typically take Friday off, congregating for less intensive intoxicants and entertainment. Skivvy Jon saw an opportunity.

“I thought, what would be better than mates, a lounge, some cushions, a few beers and some comedy? So I scammed the living room at Boogie Nites in October last year. Straight away I was like ‘holy shit, this flat thing is cool’.”

The geographic proximity of most of the iconic flats, as well as a lack of liquor ban on the streets, mean that it’s realistic for large groups to move about on foot, washing up to events like a flood.

“There were maybe 80 people in Boogie. There were people on shelves, just total gargoyles. People all over the floor. There might have been a few people smoking doobies. But it was cool, they were just humming for it, and nobody minded being a bit squished so that their mates could get in on it. It’s the sort of environment you just can’t have in a bar.”

This is typical of the special kind of community in Dunedin. Not community in the sense of strangers who happen to live in the same area, but as a shared ethos, a similar worldview, and a tangible feeling of camaraderie.

Former All Black Josh Kronfeld was baptised in the frigid Southern waters of scarfie culture. I spoke to him by phone after I returned, tissues and painkillers strewn across my desk. He says his time at the University of Otago laid the foundations for the rest of his life.

“There’s an amazing energy in Dunedin. There’s an opportunity to feel a kindred spirit, a bond with all kinds of people from all different walks of life. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, you grow as an individual.

“You know, People go to Otago Uni because they know they can get a quality education, but also at the same time experience something you just can’t anywhere else in the world.”

But while some things remain the same from Kronfeld’s early experiences in Dunedin, other things have changed. In particular, combined police and council efforts have pressured the university into taking a harder line on student behaviour.

“I understand it,” says Kronfeld. “It’s a different world now, and there’s a difference in police culture. But they’re taking these pivotal moments away from people. The big parties, Leith Street, Hyde Street, that sort of thing, those are the times that you take home with you.”

Skivvy Jon believes that events like the flat comedy shows are vital to Dunedin’s student culture.

“This scene is being attacked from every angle,” he says. “The council are trying to push the liquor ban into North Dunedin, bars like The Captain Cook and Gardies are being shut down. Student ingenuity is what will keep the culture alive. And it needs to be preserved, because it’s totally unique.”

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I‌’m an honest writer, and I honestly think that ‌even attempting objectivity here would be distasteful. I didn’t experience O-Week through binoculars from a safe distance behind the wire, and I’d be embarrassed if I did. The only way to describe what it’s like to hold down a sour mouthful of tequila and vomit at the bar of a student pub is to have felt it. Once is enough though – you’d be a masochist to want to choke down the briny froth of cheap tequila spew any more than necessary.

They’re a special breed of freak in Dunedin, though, and it takes some serious endurance to even stay in sight of them, let alone keep up. Perhaps their digestive systems have devolved to some bovine state, capable of surviving on the sustenance of mi goreng ramen noodles and cheap bourbon RTDs, but mine hasn’t. I spent a long night with my head in a garden listening to the sirens across the city and trying to stop the world from spinning. I began to fade.

One night, perched on a garage roof, blood dripping from a cut finger, I felt absolutely capable of clearing a picnic table and landing in the concrete alleyway below, so long as I missed a pile of spew and comatose guy in the shadows. With police barricades at both ends of Hyde Street, it was our only way in. Then the brutal multi-day hangovers started setting in. A certain level of paranoia and angst is natural after several nights of partying with intent, but I tried to remind myself that my blackening thoughts weren’t the only way to perceive the world. By the end I couldn’t even handle using someone else’s soap.

As we got deeper into O-Week, days and nights began to blend. Much of what happened can’t be reported here without putting my livelihood at risk, but suffice to say some of it was illegal and most of it distasteful. The progress of time was marked by the chiming of church bells and the growing pile of empties by the front door. In the news, the council threatened to extend the liquor ban to include one particular house after a flatmate jumped from a balcony onto a noise control officer.

Following several big parties on Hyde Street, an unnamed grad student complained that this year’s residents were the worst and most riotous yet. Meanwhile, the fire service was warning students that setting something on fire inside a house could be considered arson.

But the stories that ran during O Week painted an incomplete picture of what was really going down on a daily basis. Admittedly, one night I did watch a drunk girl in boots kick out the panes of a bathroom window, splintering the frame and all, but that was an exception.

Even after five days’ consecutive binging, there was very little malice in what anyone was doing. It had been nearly a week of extreme drinking, and yet still the lines outside the liquor stores were relatively calm, despite the DJs who played from carpark booths. There was no aggression, and an incredible lack of judgement or animosity.

Lost and blinded by gin one cold night, I searched an unfamiliar flat for someone who knew where we were. From room to room I stumbled into numerous circles of anonymous tweakers, sitting around powdered mirrors like ouija boards, trying to summon one last drip of serotonin. Blinking like owls, they’d offer refreshments “Oh, hey man, want a line?”

Awfully generous. In the early hours of the morning we watched a circle of naked guys drum on cardboard boxes, genitals flopping around to the beat, and nobody batted an eye. The next day, someone urinated in their own mouth. It wasn’t a big deal. “Wash your beard bro,” said one guy, “We’re about to go out.” I asked Angus what was going on, why were people so nice?

“Everyone is at the same place in Dunedin,” he said. “They’re sort of coming of age, and experimenting. People just do whatever, and nobody gives them a hard time really.”

T‌here is no such thing in life as a biological free lunch. It was on the plane home that I first realised that, as my throat started to itch and my eyes got hot. Descending to Auckland Airport, I thought that maybe a failed landing would be the easy way out of what felt like the beginnings of a serious viral battle. How could I communicate what I had seen and experienced? What did it even all amount to?

My notebook was filled with scrawlings in red and blue and sharpie but 4am epiphanies and universal moments of truth seemed almost naive under the cabin lights of a Jetstar flight. Without the taste of cigarette and the smell of spilt whiskey and the sound of too much bass, obvious conclusions about Dunedin’s student culture don’t make as much sense.

What remained with me through my week-long flu, and even till now, is an appreciation for the genuine positivity and warmth of the country’s supposed delinquents. Despite what you see on the news, I think student culture around New Zealand could afford to become a lot more like Dunedin, not less. As Josh Kronfeld, and so many others told me, in their own way, “It’s a special place to be young.”

 

In the Province of the Mind for 1972 Magazine

This feature appeared in the Summer, 2014, edition of 1972 magazine. It details my experiences with the isolation tanks at Float Culture, a flotation centre in Auckland, New Zealand, and took a different approach than much of my previous, sports-centered work. Author Steve Braunias awarded the piece the 2014 Wintec Press Club Sentence of the Year, and marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship with editor and writer Duncan Greive. It remains a personal favorite.

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Alone in the dark I left my body. It was a directionless exit. More of an expansion in all directions. Perhaps influenced by having just read a copy of the Bhagavad Gita(forced upon me by a young Hare Krishna in downtown Hamilton), I recognized an immense, blue-skinned being  which materialised before me as some hybrid Hindu deity, a kind of Shiva/Krishna mashup. As in the story of Krishna, the deity opened its mouth and revealed the contents as the entire universe. Some magnetism drew me closer. Like a leaf in a strong current I was carried onwards and inside the cosmic realm of the being’s mouth. Suddenly I burst through an invisible membrane and out into deep space, floating feet-first as if navigating a river of hydroslide. An infinite night of glimmering stars extended endlessly on all sides. Rolling waves of positivity washed over me. Gratitude filled my body. My spine cracked with a satisfying ‘pop’. I was halfway through my second experience in a flotation tank, and I was thoroughly impressed.

Anton Kuznetsov immigrated to New Zealand from Moscow in 2010, drawn like many Eastern Europeans to the idyllic locale and egalitarian society. Together with fellow expat Vasily Zaglyada, originally from Vladivostok, Anton owns and operates Float Culture, Auckland’s only floatation centre.

Established earlier last year, Float Culture’s two premium i-sopod tanks accommodate clients from right across the spectrum. Athletes looking for a mental edge float alongside self-anointed shaman’s who are probably far beyond it. Psychedelic implications aside, floating in zero gravity can be incredibly relaxing and the magnesium content of Epsom salts does wonders for the skin – so some of Float Culture’s clientele are there just to chill out.

I arrived early on the last morning of August for my first float. I was greeted at the door by Anton, who had a joyous air about him. Ushered inside I as introduced to Vasily. Like Anton, he glowed.” What’s up with these Russian dudes?” I thought.

Anton told me he uses the tank three or four times a week. “I’ve found that now when I walk to work I’m more mindful,” he said. “I noticed the look of the trees and maybe the smell of the rain. But it took me maybe 20 times before I had something that was like’ Wow. That was different.’”

“What do you mean by that?”

“A psychedelic experience. Light and sounds are visual hallucinations. You can hear music and it’s so familiar. You aren’t remembering it though, it’s just there.”

“It’s all very abstract.”

“What I’m saying is not important,” says Anton. “It’s what happens inside the tank that is interesting.”

He was right.

The tanks are futuristic white plastic pods filled with 1000 litres of water made buoyant by nearly 600 kilograms of Epsom salt, set in the middle of a room reminiscent of a Japanese bathhouse – they look like the first step of a hypersleep program. There’s an elegance to the tanks. Minimalist yet sexy, they could have been designed by Apple. This is clearly a place of relaxation. After a shower to remove any perfume, dirt or body odour, I walked naked to the tank, which was emitting a soft, blue glow. I stepped into the water, crouching down and pulling the lid with me.

The origins of the tank movement are deep in ‘60s exploratory excess. In his 1969 work The Laws of Form, polymath G. Spencer Brown wrote that a primary operation of the human psyche is making conscious and subconscious distinctions. The human biocomputer processes millions of bits of information every second but the brain can only handle so much before a point of diminishing returns. A nightclub would be a bad place to learn chess, for example. The fundamental goal of most meditation and other mindfulness practice is quieting the mind and reducing or tuning out the overwhelming distractions which endlessly compete for our attention. A barking dog, a lover’s spat, not to mention the inevitability of death and so on all serve to tug a concentration and presence, splintering the mind and taking one away from the self.

If these surface-level concerns can be addressed, the theory goes, one gains a clearer perspective on reality and one’s place in it. When the mind is quietened and sensory input fades out the incredible processing power of the brain is left free for meaningful insight.

It takes discipline and focus to quiet the chattering money-mind to a level in which truly uninhibited contemplation is possible. Social conditioning is strong and our attention spans have grown weak. It can take a lifetime of renunciation and solitude to truly gain mastery over the mind, cleaning the lens through which we perceive. But there is another way: you can remove sensory input altogether. That’s where the tank comes in.

“Alone with god, there are no alibies,” wrote Dr John C. Lilly in his book The Deep self: Profound Relaxation and the Isolation Tank Technique. Lilly is the Neil Armstrong of the inner-verse. In fact, he probably had more in common with the explorers of old, sailing over the horizons without map or certainty of return, than with any astronaut. A pioneer in the field of neuroscience, psychoanalysis and the use of psychedelics, Lilly dedicated his life to the exploration of reality and the mind’s place within it. More specifically, as asked in his early essay Truth – how can the mind render itself sufficiently objective to study itself?

Lilly was highly educated, graduating from the university of Pennsylvania with a medical degree in 1942 after several years studying physics and neurophysiology.  He took a wholly scientific approach to his early research; a Trojan horse of sorts which shielded his studies from undue outside influence.

A leading problem in neuroscience during the ‘50s was whether or not the brain could function bereft of outside stimulus such as light or sound. In 1954, as a member of the National Institute for Mental Health, Lilly conceptualized a way to totally isolate his brain. He theorised that deprivation could be achieved if the body was submerged inside a dark, soundproof body of water.

Lilly’s design required the subject (himself) to squeeze into a constrictive neoprene suit complete with a full-face rubber mask like something straight out of a BDSM dungeon before being vertically submerged into a pitch-black tank of water. Unsurprisingly, initial reports found it was difficult to relax. A revamp was needed. The system was simplified, and several incarnations later culminated in the Samadhi, a rectangular tank akin to an enlarged, enclosed bath filled with a buoyant medium of salt skin temperature water. The high concentration of Epsom salts allowed the user to float without effort and thick walls and a tight lid prevented light and sound penetration. Occasional claustrophobia aside, it worked.

Suspended weightless, adrift in the cosmos with nowhere to look but inwards, Lilly made an incredible discovery. He found that not only can the human brain function independently of input, but, unhindered by the overwhelming onslaught of endless sensory stimulation, all manner of incredible things are possible. “In the province of the mind,” Lilly would famously state, “there are no limits.”

The tank proved alluring to Lilly’s particular methodology and quickly became central to his research to the point where he would forgo sleep, choosing to float instead. Lilly began to experiment with potent psychedelics in combination with long periods of sensory deprivation.  After extensive tank use, and perhaps influenced by his infamous predilection for ketamine (Lilly once self-administered the drug intramuscularly 24 times a day for several consecutive month), Lilly’s reports became increasingly esoteric. In the Dyadic Cyclone: The Autobiography of a couplehe described encounters with a group of groovy, somewhat-benevolent cosmic entities called the Earth Coincidence Control Office (ECCO). According to Lilly, the ECCO exists inside of the Solar System Control Unit which is a part of a substation of the Cosmic Coincidence Control.

Far out, right?

Naturally when I learned flotation tanks were coming to Auckland, I had to check it out.

Stretching out inside the pod I appreciated the ample room and considered the horrific devices Lilly managed to journey through the cosmic in. “If he can get it done in one of those…” I thought. As if to ramp up the new-age woo factor, ambient music began to play through the water. Anton had warned me of this. “It helps some people to relax,” he said. Once the light went out, I understood why. Isolation tanks are very dark and very quiet. Deprived of visual and sensory input for the first time in the two decades since birth, my brain became desperate for something, anything, to focus on besides itself. For a while it clung to the soundscape like some kind of buoy, but soon the music faded away and I was alone. What transpired in the next 90 minutes was a far cry from my future brush with divinity. However that is not to diminish the intensity of the experience. My notes from shortly after the session read: “Sorted through some shit, man”.

Flotation felt a little like self-psychoanalysis, a chat between the various layer of my conscious and subconscious mind without ‘Don the Ego’ getting involved and distorting the dialogue. My motivations and anxieties were laid out on the table for discussion. Nothing was veiled with embarrassment. Everything was warm and peaceful and juicy. Time ceased to exist. When soft music signalling the end of the session brought me gently back to reality I felt reborn. Truly, it felt like leaving the womb but without the blood, sterile lighting or general trauma.

The room, softly lit just as when I entered the tank, practically gleaming. I found myself laughing at the sound the water made as it left the shower head and bounced off the floor. An apothecary of scented lotions lined the wall and each calendula-scented, lime-infused, orange-based potion inspired another giggle. I moisturised my hands, neck and face three times because it felt so damn good. “What the hell was in the water?” I thought briefly. When I returned to the lobby, Anton and Vasily were waiting with sympathetic grins on their faces. They knew.

“How was your float?”

“Would you like some green tea?”

“Definitely.”

I sat on a lime green couch while Anton poured my tea from a white porcelain teapot. I attempted an interview. It was futile. I shook my head over and over with an idiotic smile while Anton laughed quietly. He knew. “We’re going to have to do this another time,” I told him.

It was several weeks before I returned to Float Culture but barely a day went by without the tank entering my mind.  One night I dreamed I bought an i-sopod tank and installed it in my parent’s basement. If only. I arrived on a Tuesday evening for an after-dark float. Vasily asked me if I would like the ambient music again to help me relax.

“Fuck yes.”

Third eye open, I entered the tank with considerably less apprehension than last time. I was ready to get to work. Anton had recommended something similar to John Lilly’s dolphin breathing technique. “Basically you are hyperventilating inside the tank,” he said. “Once you feel like you cannot do it anymore, stop and your breathing will settle. You will get in the float state much faster this way. “

He was right.

Breath control is an integral part of many yogic traditions and it’s no secret that manipulating your body’s oxygen content can alter your consciousness. Inside the tank this effect is magnified. As the skin temperature water dissolved my body-environment boundary and my breathing slowed, I approached a significantly altered state.

Direction ceased to have meaning. I felt as though I was lying face down over an infinite precipice held up by some inverted gravitational force, or perhaps I was hanging from my feet in zero gravity. Arcs of light swirled and pulsed before my eyes. A feeling of peace enveloped my disembodied being. I went deep. Another therapeutic session of psychoanalysis was interrupted by the materialisation of a blue-skinned deity which consumed my body and spat me out in to deep space. Or maybe I just fell asleep. Who knows?

Whatever the case, whether I encountered some ancient archetypal being or just tricked my brain into producing a spectacular dream or hallucination, it was incredibly intense and a feeling of calm, peaceful acceptance lingered for several days.

In the time since my last float, it's been constantly on my mind. There are no float centers where I'm based, so the feasibility of one day owning or constructing my own tank has been thoroughly mulled over. In the meantime, the evolution of the isolation tank continues and a unique Kickstarter venture is about to begin producing 'float tents' for the home user. Set to ship in December for around US$1700, the float tent could be an economical alternative to the pricier more complicated versions.

Whether the experience could truly match the total relaxation offered by the luxurious tanks at Float Culture is up for debate. However if John Lilly can encounter cosmic entities wearing a gimp mask in a water closet, perhaps it’s not totally out of the question. Whatever the case, flotation is on the rise. Go get your hair wet.

The Dancing King for Sky Sport The Magazine

Capture This feature appeared on the cover of the November, 2014, edition of Sky Sport the magazine. It was written in the wake of Israel Adesanya's demolition of the 2014 King in the Ring 86II tournament and, due to his prodigious work rate, is a touch dated in regards to Adesanya's record and achievements.

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Just off Upper Queen Street in the heart of Auckland is the aptly named City Kickboxing gym. Home to prestigious trainers Eugene Bareman, Tristam Apikotoa and ‘Lightning’ Mike Angove to name just a few, City Kickboxing produces some of the best. Championship belts line the wall, and Doug Viney’s 2007 K1 World Grand Prix cup takes pride of place besides the front door. Foam matting covers the floor not occupied by the full-sized mixed martial arts cage. In front of that is a ring. The faded logo in the centre speaks volumes; this ring sees usage. Frequently. At City Kickboxing, they’re for real. On Saturday mornings they spar. Angove walks amongst them exhorting and critiquing. “Keep your chin down” he urges Milo ‘The Thing’ King. Milo leans back to avoid a punch, unwittingly raising his chin a fraction too high. Angove misses nothing. “I’m sorry to have to do this to you,” he says, taking off his sock, rolling it into a ball and placing it against Milo’s chest. “Now hold it there.” Milo again faces the barrage of his opponent and Angove’s sock falls to the floor. It’s no surprise, however, when one considers his sparring partner.

Israel Mobolaji Adesanya is the best-kept secret in New Zealand combat sports. With a record of 37 wins, and just two losses, Adesanya is signed to Glory; the greatest stage in world kickboxing. It’s the equivalent of the UFC or old school K1, and yet he is still to receive the same mainstream exposure as many previous representative athletes. But as he says with a grin, “they gon’ learn”. As far as he’s concerned, fame is inevitable. There are some who don’t believe him, but he’s used to pulling off the unlikely. “I’ve been telling my parents I’m the best in the world since my first fight,” he says. His second fight, against an opponent with 12 wins and a single loss, was held under full Thai rules, which allow for knees and elbows. Adesanya doesn’t do things by halves. Born in Nigeria, Adesanya lived a nomadic early life, travelling with his family in pursuit of work for his father, an accountant. From Nigeria, they travelled to Ghana, a country of 27 million bordering the Atlantic on the west coast of Africa. From Ghana, they left for New Zealand when his father was employed in Rotorua. Adesanya attended Rotorua Boys’ High - but life as an immigrant in small-city New Zealand wasn’t always easy.

“School was hard at times, man. It’s never easy being the foreign kid, but there were other guys who got a hard time there too.”

Fortunately, he had an enduring passion for dance, incubated during his time in Ghana.

“Everybody in Africa can dance. People invent new dances all the time and then you see the same dances showing up here and in America.

“My dancing helped me get that street cred, you know? Seriously though, after talent quests and things like that I’d get people coming up to me like ‘Oh, that was dope,’ and from then on they’d treat me different. It helped. It still helps, because fighting is just like a dance, it’s just a rhythm.”

It was through dance that Adesanya began to embody the showmanship he exhibits today. It was dance, too, where he cultivated the beginnings of a champion’s mentality.

“My crew, the Broken Natives, we travelled all over the place ripping up dance competitions. We were the best in New Zealand and probably Australia too.”

When Adesanya’s father had a falling out with his employers the family moved to Wanganui.

It was in this small west coast town that Adesanya would get his first taste of fight sports, both the good and the bad.

“I met Kyle Gallacher, he’s fought in King in the Ring, and he told me about this gym and invited me to come along. When I was in Wanganui I even had a fight with Jamie Eades, who’s also fought in the King in the Ring against Kyle. It was good in Wanganui, and I don’t like to talk bad about anyone, but there were a few shady match-ups and a bit of dodgy shit going on.”

Against the wishes of his trainer, Adesanya took a mixed martial arts bout in Auckland. In his corner was Eugene Bareman, a multiple time New Zealand Muay Thai champion across several weight classes.

In the legend of any good martial artist, there is always a wise older master who takes the young prodigy under their wing. In reality, these partnerships have produced some of the most stunning and technically brilliant competitors in all of history - Pacquiao and Roach, Tyson and De Amato. In Bareman, Adesanya had found a mentor under whom he could nurture his already formidable skills. For Adesanya, who even then aspired for greatness, it was clear he would have to uproot himself once again to begin his apprenticeship in the fight game for real.

“Euge is a samurai and I knew I needed to train at City Kickboxing, so one weekend I just left.”

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At 190cm tall, 86kg, Israel Adesanya is lithe and graceful. He acts with an easy efficiency that hints at an intuitive, more visceral mastery of movement. There is an innate fluidity to Adesanya, and innumerable hours of applied training have polished out the almost imperceptible wrinkles in his game, wrinkles which make all the difference at an elite level.  Nothing is accidental. On the Saturday morning I visited City Kickboxing, Adesanya was in preparation for the King in the Ring 86II. Coming off a TKO victory in a title fight with veteran Charles August, he was back in the gym under the watchful eye of coach and landlord Angove, a former New Zealand Muay Thai champion and current commentator for Sky’s combat sport broadcasts.  Adesanya drilled defensive manoeuvres with Milo King. Angove watched with a scientist’s intensity, offering a stream of critique and corrections. The rapidity with which fighters of such a calibre absorb and implement advice on-the-fly is superb, and the pair visibly sharpened their technique within a couple of minutes. But when Adesanya began to show preference for a certain technique, Angove would take it away from him.

“You have to be ready for when things go wrong,” said Angove. “One day there’s going to be someone faster than you.”

“When?”

It’s a fair question. Adesanya moves in ways nobody else can. King, a long-time training partner, knows this well.

“Israel shows you techniques that are perfectly fine if you’re him, but there is no way other people can do that stuff. Crazy jumping kicks and things like that.”

Adesanya unleashed his phenomenal speed and unorthodox techniques on a rampage through the New Zealand martial arts scene, fighting across several rule sets and weight classes. In 2013, the big leagues came calling.

In the Far East, away from the gaze of the Western combat sports world, a host of promotions pack stadiums across China with upwards of 15,000 people a show. Wu Lin Feng is one of the greatest.

“I quit my job in September last year to move to China,” says Adesanya. “I didn’t really tell anyone I was going; I just snuck out of the country.”

In the style of a gladiator stables, the fighters contracted to Wu Lin Feng lived, trained and fought together.

“I was based at a gym in the Hunan province. Everyone lives together and the promoters would be like ‘Oh, you’re fighting this guy from the gym next week, and then this guy next month. It was just business, you know? It was nothing personal.”

It is a given that a fighter on home soil will have an advantage but the extent to which corrupt officials influence fights in China is unparalleled.

Israel Adesanya. Source: Sky Sport the Magazine, November, 2014.

“China was crazy,” says Adesanya. “They’d tell you ‘Ok, it’s a K1 rules fight,’ but then I’d get thrown and it’d turn into a Sanda fight and the ref would give the other guy a point. I was like ‘man, fuck these guys,’ so I’d either knock them out or beat them at their own game.

“Something I learned in China, man, is who to trust. You can’t trust everybody.”

During his seven months in China, Adesanya brought his professional record to 32 wins with just one loss. His sole defeat came in an extension round at the hands of Canadian Simon Marcus, in the semi-finals of an 8-man tournament. The defeat was controversial.

“He hit me twice in that fight, clean. I caught him so many times moving backwards, I rocked him twice. It shouldn’t have gone to a fourth round and watching the tape afterwards we were like ‘man we beat this guy.’”

As those who follow him on social media will know, Adesanya is never hesitant to show his feelings.

“I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make money. I want people to like me, but not everyone is going to like you so just do you.”

This self-confidence is an integral part of Adesanya’s game, and he says that’s a far cry from arrogance.

“These people, man, they don’t know how to be humble. It’s not humble to pretend you aren’t good at anything or to sit on the sidelines.

“It reminds me of the David Dallas song The Wire, and he has a line about not wanting to try too hard in case you fail, that shit, a lot of people would rather say ‘Aw, I wasn’t giving it my all,’ but I’ve never been afraid of putting myself in the line of fire.”

Adesanya’s belief is built on a firm foundation and solid work ethic.

“I’m listening to the right people, man; Euge Bareman, Tristam Apikotoa, Mike Angove. I’ve got my boys Jamie van der Kuijl and Blood Diamond working with me.” he says. “No man has ever broken me, aside from my coaches in training. I train too hard and too smart to lose to these guys out there. They don’t even think like I do.”

This consistent physical and technical improvement is also supplemented by focused mental development.

“I was doing mindfulness meditation for a while,” says Adesanya. “I like to do yoga every now and again, bikram, but it’s about being present. Gratitude is the right attitude, man.

“Don’t think, just do. Like Bruce Lee said; empty your mind. Be like water my friend. Even doing pads, don’t think about what’s outside. Be what you’re doing.”

In August, 2014, Adesanya appeared live on Sky at the King in the Ring 86II; a one night, 8-man elimination tournament. The previous iteration of the event saw newcomer TY Williams triumph over a field of far more experienced fighters to take out the belt and a sizeable cash prize, staking a claim as the best cruiserweight in the country. But that tournament was missing Adesanya.

Thirty seconds into the first fight of August’s event, it was clear that this time things were going to be different. After grooving to the ring accompanied by a crew of back-up dancers, Adesanya came out of the gate with an incredible flying knee, traversing half of the ring and cracking opponent and sometime sparring partner Slava Alexeichik, dropping him for an eight count. Alexeichik found his way back to his feet, having some success with a few hard shots over the next three rounds, but it would be the most adversity Adesanya encountered all night. In his semi-final bout, Adesanya made short work of Pati ‘The Arsenal’ Afoa, knocking him down with a lead leg roundhouse to the head before leaving him unconscious with a savage combination of punches. Almost instantly, medics rushed the ring with an oxygen mask as a badly hurt and bleeding Afoa struggled back to consciousness. It was a violent knockout, and it perceptibly changed the feeling in the ASB Arena. Whoever would go on to face Adesanya in the final had their work cut out for them. As it turned out, the main event saw a rematch several long years in the making, years which had seen both contenders develop and grow as fighters.

With his father and brother in his corner, the ‘Kyokushin Kid’ Jamie Eades had despatched both Zane “Hybrid” Hopman and reigning champion TY Williams back to back, itself a significant feat. Against Adesanya, however, his run came to an end. Quickly. Visibly damaged from his earlier fights, both of which went a full three rounds, Eades made his way gingerly to the ring. Six rounds with opponents of the calibre of Hopman and Williams is basically like being in a car crash, and Eades was obviously tender. In contrast, Adesanya was immaculate. As in his opening fight, it was a flying knee which sent Adesanya’s man to the canvas. Bloodied and with significantly more ring time than Alexeichik had when he recovered, Eades stayed down. It was an honorable defeat and yet there was no question of what would have happened had Eades went another round. Not one person in the arena doubted Eades’ formidable toughness and skill, but it was clear who was king. True to form, when interviewed in-ring, live on Sky Arena, Adesanya had a message for the doubters - “I told you so.”

Since taking out the tournament, Adesanya has kept up the pace, flying to China to bring home another victory cheque, taking out an easy victory over a local favourite. Promoter and former world champion Ethan Shepp has secured Adesanya to fight on an upcoming Knees of Fury card in Hamilton against England’s Joe Boobyer and further opportunities await in the Glory World Series. Shepp believes Adesanya is destined for the top.

“He’s a special talent, he’s just got that x-factor. I’ve got no problem saying he is going to be a future world champion.”

For Adesanya, fighting is a lifestyle and, at his current victory rate, a good living too.

“Fighting is life. If you wake up every day, you’re fighting. You get out of bed, you’re fighting.

“All I want to do is eat, sleep, train, repeat.”

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A Game of Thrones for Sky Sport The Magazine

banner 2  

This feature was written in the build-up to the King in the Ring 86II. It details the rise of TY Williams, the reigning King in the Ring cruiserweight champion. He defends his belt this Saturday the 30th August.

-

During a fight, the adrenal cortex releases approximately 30 different hormones into the bloodstream.

Initially, most serve to trigger a specific physiological reaction, producing a quick burst of energy. Some of these hormones, notably epinephrine (aka adrenaline), then facilitate an incredible physical response in preparation for intensive muscular action. Heart and lung activity increases rapidly, the body suffers auditory and visual exclusion (tunnel vision) and blood is diverted to the muscles.

It’s pretty complicated stuff, but all that you need to understand is that much like a castle under siege the body rallies its defences and primes itself before combat.

The fight-or-flight response is as spectacularly powerful as it is exhausting, but the fighter who masters their mental and physiological response to stress can at least mitigate the severity of the after-effects for a time.

However all the positive visualisation and physical preparation in the world can’t carry a fighter through three fights back-to-back in one night without a little bit of discomfort.

Just ask former six-time Muay Thai world champion Jason ‘Psycho’ Suttie, a living legend in the martial arts community and promoter of the toughest test in New Zealand combat sports, the King in the Ring 8-man tournament.

Suttie Bomb

“To fight and win three times in one night? It’s bigger than winning a world title,” says Suttie, “It’s the best thing and the biggest accomplishment that I ever achieved.”

A natural heavyweight (95-100kg depending on the sanctioning body) who spent most of his career at super-heavyweight, Suttie created the King in the Ring series out of somewhat vicarious motives, having never had the chance to fight a tournament at 100kg.

“I generally weighed around 103kg and because super heavyweight has no limit, I fought up to 133kg. I always thought ‘Man, I wish the 8 man tournaments were at 100kg because I’d be killing them’, so I did King in the Ring at 100kgs, living my own dreams through these fighters,” he laughs.

Here’s how the tournament works – eight names are drawn from a hat and the resulting match-ups are announced to the crowd. Shortly thereafter, the first quarter-final fight takes place followed by the second, third and fourth. The victor of each bout heads back to their changing room to attempt to repair some of the damage sustained during the fight. After a couple of non-tournament bouts, the semi-finals begin and the process of elimination continues until the two remaining fighters meet in the main event of the evening.

The winner takes home a cash prize of $15,000 and the title of King in the Ring, but this game of thrones is every bit as arduous as the one on TV. Remember the adrenaline dump? That biological fireworks display as your body prepares to fight for its continued existence? Well, all that dilating and accelerating is incredibly taxing.

“It comes down to mental toughness,” says Suttie. “Everyone gets tired, everyone has injuries, win or lose, and it comes down to how much your brain can take.”

Injuries consistently threaten as a wildcard during the tournament. In a sport where kicks are blocked with the defendants own shin, and the aim of the game is to render your opponent unconscious, there’s always a chance that someone gets hurt.

In fact, it’s almost a certainty.

“I’d say maybe 10% of those guys come out of that first fight uninjured,” says Suttie.

Between-fight recovery methods are rudimentary and coaches concentrate more on psychological recuperation.

“In the breaks the fighter will have a little snack, a banana and a protein shake with some carbs, maybe some electrolytes and then they rest,” says Suttie, “You can’t do a lot, so for me it’s all mental.

“I talk to their brain a lot. [Reigning Super-Heavyweight King in the Ring] Tafa Misipati was injured before his first fight, and I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but I talked him through overcoming the pain and put a little bit of fear in there too. They have a lot of respect for me so I force them to get back out there.”

In the eight tournaments held so far Suttie has had six fighters reach the finals.

In April, last year, Suttie promoted the inaugural King in the Ring 86kg cruiserweight tournament. Eight of the top fighters at 86kg descended on the ASB Stadium in Kohimarama, Auckland, to compete for $15,000 and the crown of King in the Ring.

The top fighters of the North Island Muay Thai scene crowded the bill while the debate raged as to which of the favourites would be king.slav

Would the international experience of City Lee Gar veterans Jan Antolik and Slava Alexeichik see them meet in the finals? Could South Auckland’s SMAC Gym coach Francis ‘Fearless’ Vesetolu take out the field of younger men with his relentless pressure? And what about ETK Northshore’s ‘Kyokushin Kid’ Jamie Eades?

Few people north of Porirua considered the possibility that an unheralded kickboxer from Wellington could overthrow such an elite field of proven fighters.

But, despite having just six bouts to his name, that’s what Alpha Muay Thai representative TY Williams did.

The young father from Wainuiomata earned his place in the lineup after coach Kevin Dick lobbied Suttie for the chance.

“I’d heard there was an opening so I called Jason and I told him ‘Look, I know this guy only has six fights, but trust me, he’s up for it,’” says Dick. “This style is perfect for him. He was a huge underdog, having only had six fights going up against professional guys who had 30-plus fights behind them, but he got it done.”

Williams acknowledges the odds he overcame.

“I went in thinking ‘how am I going to lose, will I get knocked out?’”, says Williams, “So even making it through the first guy was enough for me. It was a big step up, but it felt so natural to do something out of the norm. A lot of people would have been like ‘Oh, I haven’t had enough fights,’ but K1 is my passion, those are the rules I like to fight, so why would I throw that opportunity away?”

Entering the tournament considerably undersized, Williams gave up significant reach and weight advantages to his opponents.

“I naturally sit around 82 or 83kg,” says Williams, “And a lot of these guys are cutting [losing weight through dehydration] down from 90kg and above, but I don’t mind. I like to feel like the real McCoy when I fight, knowing that this is actually how I am.”

Williams was superb in victory, utilising numbing leg kicks, incredible punching power and an absolutely ridiculous ability to take a shot en route to the most prestigious title in New Zealand combat sports.

“In the back of mind, I thought I had a different fight style than everyone else, but I had never tested myself against that calibre of opposition.”

Dick believes the key to Williams’ success is his ability to be coached, combined with extraordinary natural explosiveness.

“Even when he first joined the gym, I saw that he had talent,” says Dick, “But it was the way he listened that really stood out. Some fighters have plenty of natural talent, but they won’t listen to their coaches and so they don’t improve.”

This coach-ability was evident in Williams’ ringsmanship and fight IQ (a term used to describe a fighters capacity to adapt on the fly and fight intelligently).

Williams tailored his strategy to each opponent he faced on his march to the title in order to nullify their strengths and exacerbate their weaknesses.

TY

In his semi-final bout with Francis Vesetolu, a South Auckland icon renowned for his never back down style, Williams threw numerous kicks to his opponent’s legs.

The leg kick as Williams executes it is a phenomenally powerful strike. Much like a hook punch, the fighter utilises the rotation of their hips to generate force in a similar motion to someone swinging a bat. Ideally the kick lands with the instep of the shin cutting in to the tender, nerve-dense muscle just above the target’s knee.

When used effectively, the leg kick has great potential for causing sufficient damage to limit an opponent’s movement before eventual incapacitation. Additionally, because the power in any strike comes first and foremost from the legs, the damage sustained through repeated kicks can nullify a foe’s attack.

The kick-heavy strategy employed by Williams was the perfect counter for an aggressive style such as Vesetolu’s.

“TY is so explosive,” says Dick, “He has an excellent low kick and it’s something that’s made a big difference in his fights.”

On the other side of the tournament, two metre tall Kyle ‘The Knee Assassin’ Gallacher had carved his way through the elimination rounds with his exceptional range and, as his moniker would imply, deadly knees.

Heading in to the final against Gallacher, Williams was fatigued. Dick describes the efforts to rejuvenate his fighter.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on back stage after each fight at the King in the Ring, with the icing and the warming up and cooling down. That’s where a lot of the hard work comes in. It’s just about getting him ready and sharp. But again, the important thing is that he listens and everything I call out from the corner, he does.”

This receptiveness would prove to be essential in securing the win.

“We had a gameplan going in against Gallacher,” says Dick. “The idea was to counter-fight with TY’s explosiveness before clinching up to avoid the knees.”

Giving up a significant reach advantage, Williams endeavoured to get inside Gallacher, punching his way in with winging overhands before driving his head in to the taller man’s chest and smothering any counter attack. While incredibly frustrating for Gallacher and his supporters, the strategy proved effective and, after three gruelling fights, the previously unheralded boy from Wainuiomata became king.

“King in the Ring was the first time I learned of TY,” says Suttie, “I didn’t know a lot about him. No one knew what to expect of TY, so I never thought I’d see him in the final, let alone winning it.”

Dick was confident of victory all along.

“I always knew he could get it done, but sometimes at King in the Ring it comes down to the draw. Once the draw was announced at the beginning of the night, I knew we had it because the guys in the first round were going to bang each other up pretty badly.”

“But TY has always had something special. Just the other day he said to me, ‘I remember when you first told me I was going to be a national champion,’ and I told him ‘No, I said you’re going to be a world champion.’”

A year to the day later, at the King in the Ring’s sophomore effort in the 62kg division, TY Williams would legitimise what Dick had long predicted, dispatching Australian Ben Johnson in a seven round cruiserweight world title fight.

Once again it was the leg kicks that came in to play. Blood ran from Johnson’s shins by the end of the third round and with four still to come his legs appeared as if they’d been through a woodchipper.

“It took two months for my ligaments to heal after that fight, but I’ve learned how to modify my style to make sure I’m not too sore by the last fight in a tournament.”

But crowns won with blood must always be defended, and this month at the King in the Ring 86II foes both new and old will look to commit regicide.

Familiar faces Jan Antolik and Jamie Eades return in an attempt to avenge their losses while newcomers Zane Hopman, Andrew Banham and WMC champion Zac Fatamaka endeavour to create legacies of their own.

Suttie pupil Pati Afoa also enters the fray, hoping to bring the title back to Elite Thai Kickboxing.

“Pati’s coming off big victories over Kyle Gallacher and Zak Fatamaka,” says Suttie, “So he’s in really good form.”

Most intriguingly, barring a contractual clash, Israel ‘Stylebender’ Adesanya will make his King in the Ring debut. Adesanya is, to the greater public at least, a hidden gem. Quietly amassing a record of 32-2, with 15 wins via stoppage, Adesanya entered the mainstream in February, this year, when he was signed to the greatest stage in kickboxing, the Glory World Series. Suttie is excited for Adesanya to enter the tournament coming off the biggest fight of his career at Glory 15: Istanbul.

“I love Israel, I love watching him fight and he can really bring it, but it’ll be interesting to see how the other Kiwi boys stack up. I think there are a few guys in there who can give him some trouble but he could be dangerous.”

But the King from the South will not be dethroned easily, with Dick confident of victory.

“I think this is just the beginning of what we have seen from TY Williams.”

Williams, for his own part, is calmly optimistic.

“I never go in certain I’m going to win, but this is how I express my creativity, this is what I love to do. I’m not worried.”

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The Big Te Huna for Sky Sport The Magazine

James TeHuna-1  

This feature was written in the build-up to the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first trip to New Zealand. Kiwi James Te Huna was making his middleweight debut against 50 fight veteran Nate Marquardt in the main event; the attainment of a lifelong goal for the boy from Te Kauwhata.

-

When James Te Huna heard his forearm snap, a break that would require a steel plate, seven pins and a year to heal, he knew he had to do something before the pain left him incapacitated. “I knew I didn’t have much longer,” he says. “I knew I had to finish the fight before the pain set in.”

Te Huna was ten and a half minutes into the fight of his life, a mixed martial arts bout with Croatian light-heavyweight (84.3kg-93kg) Igor Pokrajac in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in February, 2010. The UFC is the greatest stage on which a professional mixed martial artist can compete. As for mixed martial arts, it’s a mixture of the most proven techniques from various martial arts such as boxing, muay thai, wrestling, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Te Huna headlines the first-ever UFC event in New Zealand on June 28 at Auckland’s Vector Arena. He’s a star, the fighting pride of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, with a record of 16-7 with ten knockouts and three submissions to his name. He makes a good living from the sport. But the stakes are high. Any fight could be his last.

Te Huna was the first Kiwi to compete in the UFC when he stepped into the cage for his fight against Pokrajac. He takes up the action from the third round of their fight: “Pokrajac came up high, went to go for a head kick and I blocked it with one arm. I heard the snap and I thought it was a broken hand. Turns out it was nerve damage playing games with me.”

Without revealing any sign of discomfort, Te Huna absorbed the blow and charged forward with a right hand, clubbing the Croatian fighter on the ear.

For two rounds the combatants had traded leather to the roar of 17,000 screaming fans inside Sydney’s Acer Arena.

Years of preparation had boiled down to fifteen minutes of execution where the slightest mishap, just a split second of hesitation, could leave either fighter unconscious.

“I had a good training camp for that fight,” says Te Huna. “I had great preparation, but going in, being the first fight in the UFC, everyone talks about the adrenaline dump that a lot of guys suffer from in the walk out.”

The art of all fighting is as much a mental battle as a physical contest. To control your nerves is a crucial skill. Too much nervous energy and a fighter can burn themselves out before they reach the cage; too little, and they risk being unable to pull the trigger.

Te Huna says, “I’d been focusing on that for the last six weeks, thinking about it every night – the crowd, the stadium, the cage in the middle so I was prepared for it. But when the time came, I walked out there and, next minute, boom, the big lamp was in my face and the cameras and there were thousands of people and signs being held up and it blew me away. I was freaked out by it all. I was overwhelmed.

“All I remember was walking up the steps to the cage and then the next moment I’m on my hands and knees with the crowd going off and Igor on my back hitting me in the side of the head and I realised I was already in the fight.”

Knocked to the floor twice in the previous rounds, Te Huna came in to the last round neck and neck with Pokrajac on the scorecards.

Thirty seconds in, Pokrajac threw the kick that shattered Te Huna’s forearm.

With time running out, Te Huna drove Pokrajac to the ground and, with his broken arm, pounded on the Croatian until the referee stopped the fight.

“I knew he was gassed by his body language and the way he was breathing. The ref was telling him to advance to another position or he was going to stop the fight. The only hand I had free was that broken arm.  There was a lot of pain in that arm but the win was there so I just took it man, I took it.

“That cemented me a place in the UFC. Your first fight with the UFC you have to make an impression and that’s exactly what I did.”

**

Trained killer in the cage, nice guy out of it, Te Huna is a gentleman. He was brought up in rural Te Kauwhata, a town of just over a thousand people on the edge of Lake Waikare in the Waikato.

“My whole family was into boxing, my father was a bit of a brawler back in his day,” he laughs. “So whenever there was a boxing fight on he’d be watching it. We grew up with all sorts of martial arts - Bruce Lee movies, Van Damme movies, and I was just really keen to try it out except there wasn’t really anything in Te Kauwhata because it’s such a small town. There wasn’t a whole lot of anything except a whole lot of grape vines.”

The family moved to Alexandra – finally giving Te Huna the chance to fight. It was his introduction to pugilism and set in motion a rise to the highest level of mixed martial arts.

“There was a boxing gym around the corner and we jumped straight in to that,” he says.

“I trained and fought for a good couple of years there. I had my first fight – first loss. I had my second fight – first win, but it was just something I really, really enjoyed and I was just always keen to give it a go.”

He also laid the foundation of a work ethic that would see him excel in elite competition.

“I was happy to spend all my time down at the gym. I remember the first time starting at the gym my boxing coach would show me a jab and I practiced that jab for a good two months. I went down to the gym every day, jumped on a skipping rope and then spent around forty minutes on the bag just jabbing until I perfected it. It was such a long time but I never got bored of it, I really enjoyed it.”

When James was 16, the Te Huna family followed older brother Tama’s emigration to Australia in search of a better life. He left school and became a bricklayer – and also discovered the sport of mixed martial arts.

In 1993, two years before Te Huna began boxing in small town New Zealand, a young Brazilian named Royce Gracie choked out three men in one night in no-holds-barred fights to win the first ever UFC. Film of that epic feat - Gracie displayed the full range of his family’s Brazilian jiu jitsu, a grappling art descended from judo which focuses on joint locks, blood chokes, cranks, slicers, crushers and all manner of potentially deadly submission holds - was released on VHS. In 2003, a copy of the tape reached the hands of Te Huna. It blew him away and set him on his path towards mixed martial arts.

Te Huna was awed by Gracie’s jiu jitsu. “He just did it so easy. He was built like a weed and he was winning the fights. It was amazing to see so I went out to look for a jiu jitsu class, found one around the corner in Penrith and jumped right in and got amongst.”

Two months later Te Huna was headed to Queensland for his first fight. “I had to fly up to Queensland because at the time in New South Wales it was illegal.”

One minute in to the fight, Te Huna was thrown and landed awkwardly on his shoulder.

“It just popped out. I didn’t know what happened and then my opponent grabbed that same arm. Before he could put on a submission, I tapped out.”

While his first loss wouldn’t discourage Te Huna, his shoulder injury would plague him throughout his early career.

“During oneJames TeHuna-3 fight it sort of popped out and the ref brought the doctor in to check it out. He couldn’t get it back in so before they called the fight off I ran back to my corner and one of my corner men, he’s a 140kg Samoan boy, grabbed the arm and swung it back in place and it was all go from there.”

In March 2007, Te Huna took a fight on three days’ notice against Cuban judo Olympian and current UFC welterweight contender Hector Lombard.

“Hector is world class. He’s not someone you can just jump straight in with. He taught me a lesson, you know? I wasn’t ready for the fight but I went out there and he pretty much blasted me from the go. He gave me a hard time, and my shoulder dislocated.”

The injury lead Te Huna to go under the knife, an operation that would keep him out of the cage for an entire year.

His return coincided with the inaugural Caged Fighting Championship light-heavyweight tournament, an eight-man elimination series. This time, Te Huna didn’t taking any chances with his preparation.

“I wanted to train as a full time professional so I pretty much quit work and borrowed money off my family and friends to get by each week. Hopefully I’d win the fight so I could pay everyone back. If I lost, man, I would have had a few overtime hours ahead of me,” he laughs.

“That just gave me that extra motivation to win. I won that first fight, paid everyone back and then the next fight was in the semi-finals so I did the same thing.”

Te Huna would ride this support through three consecutive violent victories – all within three rounds. It wasn’t long until the UFC made contact.

**

Several months later, Te Huna pounded out Pokrajac. Things were looking good. But life has a way of happening and Te Huna was about to face a trial more demanding than anything he could have planned for.

In the build up to Te Huna’s bout with future UFC title-contender Alexander Gustafsson, his father Jack fell ill.

“When dad got sick, he had staph in his blood and it went to his back and started attacking a few vertebrae. His whole body was pretty much shut down.”

For James, a man who fights to provide a better life for his family, this was a bigger blow than any he had taken in the cage.

“We were just trying to look after him and it was too hard, you know, seeing a grown man screaming, screaming for his life and we didn’t know what to do. This was happening between my training sessions leading up to the fight. Family is the priority, it was just unfortunate timing.”

Despite his father’s condition, Te Huna never considered withdrawing from the fight.

“I’ve never pulled out of a fight and I’m never going to. There’s a lot of shit that happens to me during a camp that not many people know about, but I get through broken hands and everything. To me, pulling out of a fight is just not an option.”

Three days before the fight, tragedy struck again: the Christchurch earthquake, on the morning of September 4, 2010. It devastated his birthplace of Darfield.

“I remember I woke up in the morning and started watching it on TV, watching the devastation on the screen. It was heartbreaking. I’ve got a lot of family back there.”

Entering the fight with Gustafsson in emotional turmoil, Te Huna succumbed to a first round choke.

Despite the setback, he donated the entirety of his earnings to the earthquake recovery effort, a sentiment that was matched dollar for dollar by the UFC.

His father Jack recovered from his ordeal two months after the Gustafsson bout, and their relatives in Darfield were unharmed. With his personal life in order and a fresh mindset towards training, Te Huna won four straight bouts, rising to the top echelon of the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division.

Te Huna’s Australian homecoming at UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs Silva was spoiled when he was submitted via guillotine choke in the co-main event of by eventual title contender Glover Teixeira.

Then he was matched with Brazilian mixed martial arts icon Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion with 21 victories, 18 by way of knockout.

Many critics considered Shogun’s best days behind him but what happened inside the cage revealed the essence of why mixed martial arts has been dubbed the fastest growing sport in the world.

Te Huna was knocked unconscious with a single shot after exposing himself with a hasty uppercut in the first round. All the media speculation, all the online debate, was made irrelevant in less than a second by a single well placed punch.

The loss was crushing.

“After the fight I didn’t want to go nowhere, man, I was so embarrassed about the result. I think I stayed in the house for five days straight.”

The defeat was the catalyst for change.

Scheduled for a sponsor meeting in New Zealand, Te Huna was forced onto a plane by his manager and departed for Auckland.

“I didn’t want to go. I packed so many hoodies in my bag so I could keep my face covered.”

From Auckland, Te Huna journeyed to Turangi.  “I went back down there and met up with my uncle Ez. He was a cousin of my father and he’s looking after all the land. I spent time with him, probably two or three days, and he explained everything, went over all the [family] history and I was really blown away by it all.”

The return to his roots provided a missing component in Te Huna’s life. To a man who places so much value on his family, it was a profoundly fulfilling experience.

“I was lost before but after that I came back with a clear head and a plan of attack and I knew what I needed to do to sort myself out. Everything was clear to me, everything was pretty much straight forward. I had an answer for everything.”

The answer was thus: he must drop to middleweight and reinvent himself as a force at 83kg. He makes his middleweight debut at the Vector Arena on June 28 against American Nate Marquardt, a veteran of more than 50 professional fights.

Te Huna believes he will enjoy a significant home field advantage.

“It’s going to be massive,” Te Huna says. “It’s going to give me all the momentum behind me that I could need to win this fight. I’ve got all the motivation to train harder and I’m just keen to get back and fight on home soil.”

The chance to represent New Zealand presents another important opportunity.

“I want to set a good example. I want to be the perfect role model for Māori kids to look up to. I didn’t really have any Māori idols in fighting when I was growing up, so to be the first Māori is a really, really big deal to me.”

When Te Huna takes to the cage in Auckland on June 28, just an hour drive from his hometown of Te Kauwhata, it will be the realisation of a lifelong dream.

“When you ask kids growing up ‘what do you want to be in life?’ everyone says an astronaut or something. If you had have asked me that question, it would have been to represent my country on home soil.

“The two main things in life that I wanted to make sure I’ve done are to one, always keep my family happy, and two, to achieve my childhood dreams. This is one of them.

“Dream big man, every dream is a possible achievement. I dreamt big when I was a kid, I put my head down and now those dreams are a reality.”

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The Big Te Huna for Sky Sport The Magazine

James TeHuna-1  

This feature was written in the build-up to the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first trip to New Zealand. Kiwi James Te Huna was making his middleweight debut against 50 fight veteran Nate Marquardt in the main event; the attainment of a lifelong goal for the boy from Te Kauwhata.

-

When James Te Huna heard his forearm snap, a break that would require a steel plate, seven pins and a year to heal, he knew he had to do something before the pain left him incapacitated. “I knew I didn’t have much longer,” he says. “I knew I had to finish the fight before the pain set in.”

Te Huna was ten and a half minutes into the fight of his life, a mixed martial arts bout with Croatian light-heavyweight (84.3kg-93kg) Igor Pokrajac in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in February, 2010. The UFC is the greatest stage on which a professional mixed martial artist can compete. As for mixed martial arts, it’s a mixture of the most proven techniques from various martial arts such as boxing, muay thai, wrestling, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Te Huna headlines the first-ever UFC event in New Zealand on June 28 at Auckland’s Vector Arena. He’s a star, the fighting pride of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, with a record of 16-7 with ten knockouts and three submissions to his name. He makes a good living from the sport. But the stakes are high. Any fight could be his last.

Te Huna was the first Kiwi to compete in the UFC when he stepped into the cage for his fight against Pokrajac. He takes up the action from the third round of their fight: “Pokrajac came up high, went to go for a head kick and I blocked it with one arm. I heard the snap and I thought it was a broken hand. Turns out it was nerve damage playing games with me.”

Without revealing any sign of discomfort, Te Huna absorbed the blow and charged forward with a right hand, clubbing the Croatian fighter on the ear.

For two rounds the combatants had traded leather to the roar of 17,000 screaming fans inside Sydney’s Acer Arena.

Years of preparation had boiled down to fifteen minutes of execution where the slightest mishap, just a split second of hesitation, could leave either fighter unconscious.

“I had a good training camp for that fight,” says Te Huna. “I had great preparation, but going in, being the first fight in the UFC, everyone talks about the adrenaline dump that a lot of guys suffer from in the walk out.”

The art of all fighting is as much a mental battle as a physical contest. To control your nerves is a crucial skill. Too much nervous energy and a fighter can burn themselves out before they reach the cage; too little, and they risk being unable to pull the trigger.

Te Huna says, “I’d been focusing on that for the last six weeks, thinking about it every night – the crowd, the stadium, the cage in the middle so I was prepared for it. But when the time came, I walked out there and, next minute, boom, the big lamp was in my face and the cameras and there were thousands of people and signs being held up and it blew me away. I was freaked out by it all. I was overwhelmed.

“All I remember was walking up the steps to the cage and then the next moment I’m on my hands and knees with the crowd going off and Igor on my back hitting me in the side of the head and I realised I was already in the fight.”

Knocked to the floor twice in the previous rounds, Te Huna came in to the last round neck and neck with Pokrajac on the scorecards.

Thirty seconds in, Pokrajac threw the kick that shattered Te Huna’s forearm.

With time running out, Te Huna drove Pokrajac to the ground and, with his broken arm, pounded on the Croatian until the referee stopped the fight.

“I knew he was gassed by his body language and the way he was breathing. The ref was telling him to advance to another position or he was going to stop the fight. The only hand I had free was that broken arm.  There was a lot of pain in that arm but the win was there so I just took it man, I took it.

“That cemented me a place in the UFC. Your first fight with the UFC you have to make an impression and that’s exactly what I did.”

**

Trained killer in the cage, nice guy out of it, Te Huna is a gentleman. He was brought up in rural Te Kauwhata, a town of just over a thousand people on the edge of Lake Waikare in the Waikato.

“My whole family was into boxing, my father was a bit of a brawler back in his day,” he laughs. “So whenever there was a boxing fight on he’d be watching it. We grew up with all sorts of martial arts - Bruce Lee movies, Van Damme movies, and I was just really keen to try it out except there wasn’t really anything in Te Kauwhata because it’s such a small town. There wasn’t a whole lot of anything except a whole lot of grape vines.”

The family moved to Alexandra – finally giving Te Huna the chance to fight. It was his introduction to pugilism and set in motion a rise to the highest level of mixed martial arts.

“There was a boxing gym around the corner and we jumped straight in to that,” he says.

“I trained and fought for a good couple of years there. I had my first fight – first loss. I had my second fight – first win, but it was just something I really, really enjoyed and I was just always keen to give it a go.”

He also laid the foundation of a work ethic that would see him excel in elite competition.

“I was happy to spend all my time down at the gym. I remember the first time starting at the gym my boxing coach would show me a jab and I practiced that jab for a good two months. I went down to the gym every day, jumped on a skipping rope and then spent around forty minutes on the bag just jabbing until I perfected it. It was such a long time but I never got bored of it, I really enjoyed it.”

When James was 16, the Te Huna family followed older brother Tama’s emigration to Australia in search of a better life. He left school and became a bricklayer – and also discovered the sport of mixed martial arts.

In 1993, two years before Te Huna began boxing in small town New Zealand, a young Brazilian named Royce Gracie choked out three men in one night in no-holds-barred fights to win the first ever UFC. Film of that epic feat - Gracie displayed the full range of his family’s Brazilian jiu jitsu, a grappling art descended from judo which focuses on joint locks, blood chokes, cranks, slicers, crushers and all manner of potentially deadly submission holds - was released on VHS. In 2003, a copy of the tape reached the hands of Te Huna. It blew him away and set him on his path towards mixed martial arts.

Te Huna was awed by Gracie’s jiu jitsu. “He just did it so easy. He was built like a weed and he was winning the fights. It was amazing to see so I went out to look for a jiu jitsu class, found one around the corner in Penrith and jumped right in and got amongst.”

Two months later Te Huna was headed to Queensland for his first fight. “I had to fly up to Queensland because at the time in New South Wales it was illegal.”

One minute in to the fight, Te Huna was thrown and landed awkwardly on his shoulder.

“It just popped out. I didn’t know what happened and then my opponent grabbed that same arm. Before he could put on a submission, I tapped out.”

While his first loss wouldn’t discourage Te Huna, his shoulder injury would plague him throughout his early career.

“During oneJames TeHuna-3 fight it sort of popped out and the ref brought the doctor in to check it out. He couldn’t get it back in so before they called the fight off I ran back to my corner and one of my corner men, he’s a 140kg Samoan boy, grabbed the arm and swung it back in place and it was all go from there.”

In March 2007, Te Huna took a fight on three days’ notice against Cuban judo Olympian and current UFC welterweight contender Hector Lombard.

“Hector is world class. He’s not someone you can just jump straight in with. He taught me a lesson, you know? I wasn’t ready for the fight but I went out there and he pretty much blasted me from the go. He gave me a hard time, and my shoulder dislocated.”

The injury lead Te Huna to go under the knife, an operation that would keep him out of the cage for an entire year.

His return coincided with the inaugural Caged Fighting Championship light-heavyweight tournament, an eight-man elimination series. This time, Te Huna didn’t taking any chances with his preparation.

“I wanted to train as a full time professional so I pretty much quit work and borrowed money off my family and friends to get by each week. Hopefully I’d win the fight so I could pay everyone back. If I lost, man, I would have had a few overtime hours ahead of me,” he laughs.

“That just gave me that extra motivation to win. I won that first fight, paid everyone back and then the next fight was in the semi-finals so I did the same thing.”

Te Huna would ride this support through three consecutive violent victories – all within three rounds. It wasn’t long until the UFC made contact.

**

Several months later, Te Huna pounded out Pokrajac. Things were looking good. But life has a way of happening and Te Huna was about to face a trial more demanding than anything he could have planned for.

In the build up to Te Huna’s bout with future UFC title-contender Alexander Gustafsson, his father Jack fell ill.

“When dad got sick, he had staph in his blood and it went to his back and started attacking a few vertebrae. His whole body was pretty much shut down.”

For James, a man who fights to provide a better life for his family, this was a bigger blow than any he had taken in the cage.

“We were just trying to look after him and it was too hard, you know, seeing a grown man screaming, screaming for his life and we didn’t know what to do. This was happening between my training sessions leading up to the fight. Family is the priority, it was just unfortunate timing.”

Despite his father’s condition, Te Huna never considered withdrawing from the fight.

“I’ve never pulled out of a fight and I’m never going to. There’s a lot of shit that happens to me during a camp that not many people know about, but I get through broken hands and everything. To me, pulling out of a fight is just not an option.”

Three days before the fight, tragedy struck again: the Christchurch earthquake, on the morning of September 4, 2010. It devastated his birthplace of Darfield.

“I remember I woke up in the morning and started watching it on TV, watching the devastation on the screen. It was heartbreaking. I’ve got a lot of family back there.”

Entering the fight with Gustafsson in emotional turmoil, Te Huna succumbed to a first round choke.

Despite the setback, he donated the entirety of his earnings to the earthquake recovery effort, a sentiment that was matched dollar for dollar by the UFC.

His father Jack recovered from his ordeal two months after the Gustafsson bout, and their relatives in Darfield were unharmed. With his personal life in order and a fresh mindset towards training, Te Huna won four straight bouts, rising to the top echelon of the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division.

Te Huna’s Australian homecoming at UFC Fight Night: Hunt vs Silva was spoiled when he was submitted via guillotine choke in the co-main event of by eventual title contender Glover Teixeira.

Then he was matched with Brazilian mixed martial arts icon Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion with 21 victories, 18 by way of knockout.

Many critics considered Shogun’s best days behind him but what happened inside the cage revealed the essence of why mixed martial arts has been dubbed the fastest growing sport in the world.

Te Huna was knocked unconscious with a single shot after exposing himself with a hasty uppercut in the first round. All the media speculation, all the online debate, was made irrelevant in less than a second by a single well placed punch.

The loss was crushing.

“After the fight I didn’t want to go nowhere, man, I was so embarrassed about the result. I think I stayed in the house for five days straight.”

The defeat was the catalyst for change.

Scheduled for a sponsor meeting in New Zealand, Te Huna was forced onto a plane by his manager and departed for Auckland.

“I didn’t want to go. I packed so many hoodies in my bag so I could keep my face covered.”

From Auckland, Te Huna journeyed to Turangi.  “I went back down there and met up with my uncle Ez. He was a cousin of my father and he’s looking after all the land. I spent time with him, probably two or three days, and he explained everything, went over all the [family] history and I was really blown away by it all.”

The return to his roots provided a missing component in Te Huna’s life. To a man who places so much value on his family, it was a profoundly fulfilling experience.

“I was lost before but after that I came back with a clear head and a plan of attack and I knew what I needed to do to sort myself out. Everything was clear to me, everything was pretty much straight forward. I had an answer for everything.”

The answer was thus: he must drop to middleweight and reinvent himself as a force at 83kg. He makes his middleweight debut at the Vector Arena on June 28 against American Nate Marquardt, a veteran of more than 50 professional fights.

Te Huna believes he will enjoy a significant home field advantage.

“It’s going to be massive,” Te Huna says. “It’s going to give me all the momentum behind me that I could need to win this fight. I’ve got all the motivation to train harder and I’m just keen to get back and fight on home soil.”

The chance to represent New Zealand presents another important opportunity.

“I want to set a good example. I want to be the perfect role model for Māori kids to look up to. I didn’t really have any Māori idols in fighting when I was growing up, so to be the first Māori is a really, really big deal to me.”

When Te Huna takes to the cage in Auckland on June 28, just an hour drive from his hometown of Te Kauwhata, it will be the realisation of a lifelong dream.

“When you ask kids growing up ‘what do you want to be in life?’ everyone says an astronaut or something. If you had have asked me that question, it would have been to represent my country on home soil.

“The two main things in life that I wanted to make sure I’ve done are to one, always keep my family happy, and two, to achieve my childhood dreams. This is one of them.

“Dream big man, every dream is a possible achievement. I dreamt big when I was a kid, I put my head down and now those dreams are a reality.”

[twitter-follow screen_name='Don_Rowe']

King in the Ring 86 Trans-Tasman 8 Man Tournament Preview

king Just fourteen days after taking out the Super 8, Israel Adesanya is back to defend his 2014 King in the Ring cruiserweight title.

It was a rainy night last August when Adesanya defeated Slava Alexeichik, Pati Afoa and Jamie Eades to claim the belt and officially announce himself to the mainstream of New Zealand. Since then, the City Kickboxing product has gone 3-1 in the boxing ring, taking out the Super 8 and $50,000, as well as consecutive KO victories on Knees of Fury cards including their 50th event in Australia.

He's in incredible form and better every day, but the old wisdom says it's much harder to keep a belt than to win one. Next weekend's Trans-Tasman tournament is a shark tank, and promoter Jason Suttie says it's the first time they've had a fighter specifically request an opening match-up with Adesanya.

"Simon Maait, from Sydney, he asked for Israel first. I told him, "I can't do that", but I definitely respect it. He's the only Australian to ask for Izzy."

Another high-profile Australian, WBC Queensland Cruiserweight champion Kurtis Pegoraro, also asked personally to be on the card, despite there being no guarantee of a payday.

"There's a lot more money in Australia," says Suttie. "So the boys are usually paid a show-fee, where they get paid regardless of what happens. But these guys are texting me and asking to be on the show, saying na, they want to be like the Kiwi's and fight for the prize."

Suttie believes this is a testament to the personal touch himself and co-promoter and wife Arna Suttie have developed with the King in the Ring tournament.

"On the Sunday morning, I'm looking after the fighters. They check out at 11, fly out at 6, and they've just had a big night fighting and celebrating, so I bring them around to my home. I've fought overseas and I know what it's like getting kicked out of the hotel and walking around for hours until you can go home."

The King in the Ring tournament is run solely by the Suttie's. Jason handles the fighters. With 6 world titles under his belt, he knows a few things about matchmaking, and has total authority over who fights who and when. Jason also coaches his own stable of fighters out of Elite Thai Kickboxing, and generally has several fighters on the card. Arna handles everything else, including producing marketing material, managing social media, running the administration side of things and liaising with Sky TV as the event manager on the night. Looking after the kids is a team effort.

"I don't even know how we do it," says Arna. "It's all in-house, because we shove as much money back in to the tournament as possible. We put as much back into it as we can, and I think it shows in the professionalism of the event."

"But we always count ourselves lucky to have the fight community. We have all these people around us. When Jason takes the kids to the gym, ETK, there are these big tough tattooed guys everywhere, and they love the kids. They've all got their own babies, so they mob them when they come in."

Representing Suttie's ETK in the Trans-Tasman tournament is Pati "The Arsenal" Afoa, who one-punch KO'd fellow contender Simon Maait in a superfight at the King in the Ring 72III last November. Afoa also holds victories over two other Trans-Tasman competitors: WMC world title holder Zak Fatamaka, from Grizzly Thai Boxing, and Fortitude Thai Boxing's Zane 'The Hybrid' Hopman, who he beat in a razor-close WMC and WKBF cruiserweight title fight. All three men have had significant international experience since. Just who has improved the most may be revealed in the Trans-Tasman tournament final.

But Israel Adesanya isn't the only King in the Ring on this card. In a Trans-Tasman superfight, Adesanya's stablemate and reigning 72kg champ Blood Diamond takes on Sydney's Dirty Sanchez. Also on the card is 62kg King Sone Vannathy, who looks to avenge his upset-loss against the rising Pumipi "Caezar" Ngaronoa, not to mention a heavyweight scrap between Pane 'The Punisher' Haraki and Nato "Hard Knox" Laauli.

It's King in the Ring's most exciting card yet, and it features some of the top fighters in the Southern Hemisphere. Broadcast on Sky TV and available to stream online, there's no excuse for missing the pinacle of kickboxing promotion in New Zealand on April 11th.

"To have this many top guys in King in the Ring is humbling. It is." says Suttie. "I'm glad my wife took a liking to my sport, because it's been for the better of the King in the Ring, and as a result for the whole sport."

Superfights

Chris 'Cobra' Eades (ETK North Shore) vs Jordan 'Sniper' Syme (Grizzly Thai Boxing)

Pane 'The Punisher' Haraki (Hastings Fitness Centre) vs Nato 'Hard Knox' Laauli (ETK)

Sone 'Arch Angel' Vannathy (Arch Angel Muay Thai) vs Pumipi 'Caezar' Ngaronoa (Dannevirke Bulldogs)

Blood Diamond (City Kickboxing) vs Dirty Sanchez (Full Force Gym)

Trans-Tasman 8 Man

Australia

Kim Loudon (Extreme Muay Thai)

Mark Timms (Bulldog Gym, Manly)

Simon 'Mayhem' Maait (Bulldog Gym, Castle Hill)

Kurtis Pegoraro (Corporate Boxing Gym)

New Zealand

(C) Israel 'Stylebender' Adesanya (City Kickboxing)

Pati 'The Arsenal' Afoa (ETK)

Zak 'Fearless' Fatamaka (Grizzly Thai Boxing)

Zane 'The Hybrid' Hopman (Fortitude Thai Boxing)

 

[twitter-follow screen_name='Don_Rowe']

King in the Ring 72III Tournament Recap

kitr City Kickboxing's Blood Diamond earned just a fraction under a thousand dollars a minute at the King in the Ring 72III last night, setting a new record for fastest knockout in the process.

The Zimbabwean-born Kiwi dispatched his first two opponents in 59 and 13 seconds respectively, going the distance just once against ETK's 'Electric' Edwin Samy in an explosive finale to a fantastic night of fights.

"I came to do my thing," said Diamond. "I was real focused and strong and ready for three hard battles. There was no way I was leaving the ring without that belt, that was my mindset."

The story of the night was Blood Diamond's brutal roundhouse kicks, racking up four knockdowns from three fights, with two knockouts.

"Funny enough I didn't practice the kicks, they just came natural," he said. "I was feeling very sharp and, like I said, focused, so the timing was there."

It was also a testament to the incredible toughness of Samy, who entered the final fight with over twenty minutes ring-time clocked up, having taken both Brook Sutton and Brook Haami to tough decision verdicts, one in an extension round against the latter.

New Zealand also went 3-1 in trans-Tasman superfights against game representatives of Sydney's two Bulldog Gym's, including two stoppage victories and a hard-fought unanimous decision.

Let's take a closer look at the fights.

King in the Ring Middleweight Tournament

Reserve Fight

Mike 'The Farmer' Fotheringham vs Josh 'Method Man' Marsters

Mike Fotheringham has a sick left hook and he used it to great effect. Marsters is incredibly tough, but he couldn't deal with The Farmer's crushing left and never really gave him any problems. It was a gutsy effort, but on wobbly legs with a badly bloodied nose, Marsters was saved from further damage by the referee in the second round and will go on to fight another day. Fotheringham escaped unscathed, but his presence was never required in the 8-man tournament.

Quarter Finals

Quarter Final One: Harley 'Lethal' Love vs Jake 'The Snake' Crane

The first fight of the tournament kicked off with a bang, and midway through the first round it looked like both fighters would be lucky to go three rounds let alone three fights. Love was the more aggressive of the two, pursuing Crane and throwing heavy shots to the body and winging overhand rights. Crane never looked to be in trouble though and found some success of his own in the limited clinch allowed by the K1-style rules. It was a punishing pace and a testament to the conditioning of both fighters that they were able to maintain it deep into the third round. In a closely competitive bout Love managed to do enough to eke a split decision from the judges and went on to the semi finals.

Quarter Final Two: Carlos 'Flying Fijian' Hicks vs Blood Diamond

Unfortunately for Carlos Hicks, Blood Diamond never allowed him a chance to get going; scoring two knockdowns within 40 seconds, both from whipping head kicks. Hicks made the count on both kicks however the referee had seen enough and called the fight. It was a disappointing exit for Hicks who has been in phenomenal form recently and looked to be in great shape. There's absolutely no shame in falling to a Blood Diamond head kick though, and Hicks certainly wasn't the only one to do so at the King in the Ring. Blood Diamond moved on to the semi finals without a scratch.

Quarter Final Three: Brook 'On the Button' Sutton vs Edwin 'Electric' Samy

The third quarter final of the night saw the tournament's most experienced competitor up against the least experienced. It became anything but a cakewalk for Samy, though, as Sutton utilised clean technique and superb defense to drag the fight into the later rounds. Samy was clearly the more explosive fighter and it began to show on Sutton's body as the undefeated South Islander's torso progressively reddened. It was a close fight but after three rounds Samy went through with a majority judges decision.

Quarter Final Four: Chris 'Cobra' Eades vs Brook 'VC' Haami

Chris Eades kicks really, really hard. Haami wore several brutal kicks to the midriff early in the first round and it looked like Eades was going to demonstrate a repeat of his victory over Mikaera Povey. It was not to be though, as Haami absorbed the shots and came back with some excellent boxing of his own over the next two rounds. Eades ate a hard spinning side kick late in the third and Haami took out a majority decision.

Semi Finals

Semi Final One: Blood Diamond vs Harley 'Lethal' Love

Blood Diamond's rampage through the King in the Ring tournament continued in the first semi-final bout. An aggressive Love came out the gate with hard punching combinations, landing a cracking uppercut flush on Blood Diamond. It was all for naught, however, as Blood Diamond absorbed the short, pivoted out and cracked Love with a roundhouse off the lead leg just a fraction of a second later. Love crashed to the canvas, slightly held up by the ropes, and stiffened up with a vacant look in his eyes. In true Mark Hunt style, Blood Diamond walked away the minute the kick landed. In the post fight interview, Monty Beetham asked Blood if he had another win left in him. "I'm not going to say anything," he replied. "You've seen what I can do. What do you think?" The crowd's roar of approval was all the answer necessary.

Semi Final Two: Edwin 'Electric' Samy vs Brook 'VC' Haami

Samy's road to the finals again hit a rough patch in his bout with Brook 'VC' Haami, buoyed by his victory over Chris Eades. Once again there was a vast gulf in experience, and once again the underdog forced Samy to pull out all the stops to secure a win. It was a surprisingly competitive bout, and at the end of three rounds only one of the three ringside judges could pick a winner. The fourth round was similarly close and both fighters looked confident in their success. Considering the winner would have to fight a ludicrously fresh Blood Diamond, neither man looked ready to conceded defeat. In the end the experience of Samy proved too much and he went through to the final bout, albeit with some serious attrition.

King in the Ring 72III Tournament Final

Blood Diamond vs Edwin 'Electric' Samy

Draped in the flag of his native Zimbabwe, Blood Diamond danced his way to the ring for the final bout of the evening. He had the look of a man determined, and it seemed it would take a truck to put him down. But Edwin Samy is tough, and after more than twenty minutes ring time, he managed to give Blood Diamond his hardest test of the tournament. It was clear after the first kick buckled Samy's leg that he had sustained some significant damage in his previous two fights, but he was still far from a sitting duck. Even after Blood Diamond landed yet another spectacular head kick in the second round, Samy regained his feet for the eight count and charged forward with a hard right hand. It was too little too late however, and Blood danced it off with a trademark shoulder-shuffle. Heading into the third round Samy needed something special to even up the scorecards, but it was not to be and Blood Diamond cruised home with a relatively easy unanimous decision. Although it was far from Blood Diamond's previous two decapitations, it was a dominant performance nonetheless and as the bell rung he stood in center ring with his hands raised, looking every part the King in the Ring. According to Blood Diamond, it's just the beginning.

"Hopefully next is either a world title or Glory world series," he said. "The world needs to know NZ may be a small country but we can bang with the best of them."

As Blood Diamond collected his check for $10,000 amongst a downpour of silver and gold confetti,  it was clear just why the King in the Ring is the number one promotion in New Zealand. For the second consecutive event, a rising superstar has exploded into the public eye. Not to mention the bravery of Sam Hill, head spraying blood like a shank from which he takes his fight name, coming back for a second round TKO in his trans-Tasman superfight. Or Pati Afoa, down on the scorecards with just 8 seconds to go in the final round, finding that last shred of energy and knocking his opponent out cold with a crunching right hand against the ropes.

To channel my inner Mike Schiavello, there was more heart on display than a cardiologists office, and that's what makes this sport so special.

Superfight Results

Joey 'The Filipino Kid' Baylon (ETK) def Terry 'Turbo' Kounsavat (Bulldog Gym, Manly) via UD

Sam 'Tha Shank' Hill (SMAC) def Nathan 'Nasty Boy' Robson (Bulldog Gym, Castle Hill) via TKO RD2

Pati 'Arsenal' Afoa (ETK) def Simon 'Mayhem' Maait (Bulldog Gym, Castle Hill) via TKO RD4

Dan 'The Pain' Roberts (Bulldog Gym, Manly) def Paulo 'The Barbarian' Lakai (ETK) via KO Rd1

 

King in the Ring 72III Tournament Recap

kitr City Kickboxing's Blood Diamond earned just a fraction under a thousand dollars a minute at the King in the Ring 72III last night, setting a new record for fastest knockout in the process.

The Zimbabwean-born Kiwi dispatched his first two opponents in 59 and 13 seconds respectively, going the distance just once against ETK's 'Electric' Edwin Samy in an explosive finale to a fantastic night of fights.

"I came to do my thing," said Diamond. "I was real focused and strong and ready for three hard battles. There was no way I was leaving the ring without that belt, that was my mindset."

The story of the night was Blood Diamond's brutal roundhouse kicks, racking up four knockdowns from three fights, with two knockouts.

"Funny enough I didn't practice the kicks, they just came natural," he said. "I was feeling very sharp and, like I said, focused, so the timing was there."

It was also a testament to the incredible toughness of Samy, who entered the final fight with over twenty minutes ring-time clocked up, having taken both Brook Sutton and Brook Haami to tough decision verdicts, one in an extension round against the latter.

New Zealand also went 3-1 in trans-Tasman superfights against game representatives of Sydney's two Bulldog Gym's, including two stoppage victories and a hard-fought unanimous decision.

Let's take a closer look at the fights.

King in the Ring Middleweight Tournament

Reserve Fight

Mike 'The Farmer' Fotheringham vs Josh 'Method Man' Marsters

Mike Fotheringham has a sick left hook and he used it to great effect. Marsters is incredibly tough, but he couldn't deal with The Farmer's crushing left and never really gave him any problems. It was a gutsy effort, but on wobbly legs with a badly bloodied nose, Marsters was saved from further damage by the referee in the second round and will go on to fight another day. Fotheringham escaped unscathed, but his presence was never required in the 8-man tournament.

Quarter Finals

Quarter Final One: Harley 'Lethal' Love vs Jake 'The Snake' Crane

The first fight of the tournament kicked off with a bang, and midway through the first round it looked like both fighters would be lucky to go three rounds let alone three fights. Love was the more aggressive of the two, pursuing Crane and throwing heavy shots to the body and winging overhand rights. Crane never looked to be in trouble though and found some success of his own in the limited clinch allowed by the K1-style rules. It was a punishing pace and a testament to the conditioning of both fighters that they were able to maintain it deep into the third round. In a closely competitive bout Love managed to do enough to eke a split decision from the judges and went on to the semi finals.

Quarter Final Two: Carlos 'Flying Fijian' Hicks vs Blood Diamond

Unfortunately for Carlos Hicks, Blood Diamond never allowed him a chance to get going; scoring two knockdowns within 40 seconds, both from whipping head kicks. Hicks made the count on both kicks however the referee had seen enough and called the fight. It was a disappointing exit for Hicks who has been in phenomenal form recently and looked to be in great shape. There's absolutely no shame in falling to a Blood Diamond head kick though, and Hicks certainly wasn't the only one to do so at the King in the Ring. Blood Diamond moved on to the semi finals without a scratch.

Quarter Final Three: Brook 'On the Button' Sutton vs Edwin 'Electric' Samy

The third quarter final of the night saw the tournament's most experienced competitor up against the least experienced. It became anything but a cakewalk for Samy, though, as Sutton utilised clean technique and superb defense to drag the fight into the later rounds. Samy was clearly the more explosive fighter and it began to show on Sutton's body as the undefeated South Islander's torso progressively reddened. It was a close fight but after three rounds Samy went through with a majority judges decision.

Quarter Final Four: Chris 'Cobra' Eades vs Brook 'VC' Haami

Chris Eades kicks really, really hard. Haami wore several brutal kicks to the midriff early in the first round and it looked like Eades was going to demonstrate a repeat of his victory over Mikaera Povey. It was not to be though, as Haami absorbed the shots and came back with some excellent boxing of his own over the next two rounds. Eades ate a hard spinning side kick late in the third and Haami took out a majority decision.

Semi Finals

Semi Final One: Blood Diamond vs Harley 'Lethal' Love

Blood Diamond's rampage through the King in the Ring tournament continued in the first semi-final bout. An aggressive Love came out the gate with hard punching combinations, landing a cracking uppercut flush on Blood Diamond. It was all for naught, however, as Blood Diamond absorbed the short, pivoted out and cracked Love with a roundhouse off the lead leg just a fraction of a second later. Love crashed to the canvas, slightly held up by the ropes, and stiffened up with a vacant look in his eyes. In true Mark Hunt style, Blood Diamond walked away the minute the kick landed. In the post fight interview, Monty Beetham asked Blood if he had another win left in him. "I'm not going to say anything," he replied. "You've seen what I can do. What do you think?" The crowd's roar of approval was all the answer necessary.

Semi Final Two: Edwin 'Electric' Samy vs Brook 'VC' Haami

Samy's road to the finals again hit a rough patch in his bout with Brook 'VC' Haami, buoyed by his victory over Chris Eades. Once again there was a vast gulf in experience, and once again the underdog forced Samy to pull out all the stops to secure a win. It was a surprisingly competitive bout, and at the end of three rounds only one of the three ringside judges could pick a winner. The fourth round was similarly close and both fighters looked confident in their success. Considering the winner would have to fight a ludicrously fresh Blood Diamond, neither man looked ready to conceded defeat. In the end the experience of Samy proved too much and he went through to the final bout, albeit with some serious attrition.

King in the Ring 72III Tournament Final

Blood Diamond vs Edwin 'Electric' Samy

Draped in the flag of his native Zimbabwe, Blood Diamond danced his way to the ring for the final bout of the evening. He had the look of a man determined, and it seemed it would take a truck to put him down. But Edwin Samy is tough, and after more than twenty minutes ring time, he managed to give Blood Diamond his hardest test of the tournament. It was clear after the first kick buckled Samy's leg that he had sustained some significant damage in his previous two fights, but he was still far from a sitting duck. Even after Blood Diamond landed yet another spectacular head kick in the second round, Samy regained his feet for the eight count and charged forward with a hard right hand. It was too little too late however, and Blood danced it off with a trademark shoulder-shuffle. Heading into the third round Samy needed something special to even up the scorecards, but it was not to be and Blood Diamond cruised home with a relatively easy unanimous decision. Although it was far from Blood Diamond's previous two decapitations, it was a dominant performance nonetheless and as the bell rung he stood in center ring with his hands raised, looking every part the King in the Ring. According to Blood Diamond, it's just the beginning.

"Hopefully next is either a world title or Glory world series," he said. "The world needs to know NZ may be a small country but we can bang with the best of them."

As Blood Diamond collected his check for $10,000 amongst a downpour of silver and gold confetti,  it was clear just why the King in the Ring is the number one promotion in New Zealand. For the second consecutive event, a rising superstar has exploded into the public eye. Not to mention the bravery of Sam Hill, head spraying blood like a shank from which he takes his fight name, coming back for a second round TKO in his trans-Tasman superfight. Or Pati Afoa, down on the scorecards with just 8 seconds to go in the final round, finding that last shred of energy and knocking his opponent out cold with a crunching right hand against the ropes.

To channel my inner Mike Schiavello, there was more heart on display than a cardiologists office, and that's what makes this sport so special.

Superfight Results

Joey 'The Filipino Kid' Baylon (ETK) def Terry 'Turbo' Kounsavat (Bulldog Gym, Manly) via UD

Sam 'Tha Shank' Hill (SMAC) def Nathan 'Nasty Boy' Robson (Bulldog Gym, Castle Hill) via TKO RD2

Pati 'Arsenal' Afoa (ETK) def Simon 'Mayhem' Maait (Bulldog Gym, Castle Hill) via TKO RD4

Dan 'The Pain' Roberts (Bulldog Gym, Manly) def Paulo 'The Barbarian' Lakai (ETK) via KO Rd1

 

King in the Ring 72III Tournament Preview

Chris Eades, Edwin Samy, Victor Mechkov and Daniel Hooker. Jason Suttie's King in the Ring 8-man tournament returns for one final event for 2014 this Saturday night at the ASB Stadium in Kohimarama. On the line is Dan 'The Hangman' Hooker's 72kg crown, vacated after he was signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship earlier this year. Also on the card are four trans-Tasman superfights with a formidable lineup of Australian fighters taking on representatives from SMAC Gym and Suttie's own Elite Thai Kickboxing. Without further ado, let's take a look at the lineup.

King in the Ring Middleweight Tournament

Pool A - Edwin Samy (ETK), Blood Diamond (City Kickboxing), Chris Eades (ETK North Shore), Jake Crane (Helensville Thai Boxing)

Pool A is the battle of the big smoke, with all four fighters living and training in Auckland. 'Electric' Edwin Samy (40-22-2) is the most experienced of the group, although Blood Diamond (30-10-0) and Jake Crane (33-5-1) are close behind.

'Electric' Edwin Samy trains under Jason Suttie at ETK and has made the final round of the past two 72kg tournaments. He fell short in his last attempt at the crown after a savvy Dan Hooker targeted his damaged midriff with a wicked left hook in the first round of their fight. It was an unfortunate end to a tough night for Samy, but it demonstrated what the King in the Ring is all about. It's one thing to win your fights, but it's equally as important to do so without absorbing too much punishment in the process. Easier said than done, but Samy will undoubtedly take care to do so and is likely a favourite to take out the tournament.

Blood Diamond, fighting out of City Kickboxing, is a stablemate of reigning cruiserweight champion Israel Adesanya. Like Adesanya, Blood Diamond has spent a significant amount of his career living and training in China. He fights with an unorthodox, explosive style, as evident in his 1-3 knockout ratio. He's also a former WMC, Commonwealth WKA and New Zealand IKBF champion. This will be his most publicized bout in New Zealand to date, and he'll be looking to bring another belt back to City Kickboxing.

Chris 'The Cobra' Eades is the younger brother of the 'Kyokushin Kid' Jamie Eades, and also trains out of ETK North Shore. Though his record stands at a mixed 9 wins with 7 losses, he's tough as nails and has taken the likes of Victor Mechkov and Brad Riddell to hard-fought decisions. He holds a first round TKO over Mikaera 'Shotgun' Povey and has shown steady and constant improvement in every fight. Considering older brother Jamie was taken out by Israel Adesanya in the cruiserweight tournament in August, a potential match-up between the younger Eades and Blood Diamond could be an intriguing fight. With his brother likely in his corner, Eades is a tough out for anyone in the tournament.

Jake 'The Snake' Crane is the tallest fighter in the King in the Ring 72III at 185cm. Training out of Helensville Thai Boxing, the same gym as Mikaera Povey, Crane also has a bone to pick with Chris Eades. He brings considerable experience to the tournament as well as a winning record of 33-5-1, although with just 5 knockouts thus far, he'll likely have to win the crown the hard way.

Pool B - Carlos Hicks (House of Pain), Harley Love (City Lee Gar), Brook Sutton (Diamond Star Muay Thai), Brook Haami (MTI Wellington)

Pool B features three out-of-towners, with fighters coming from as far as Wellington and Dunedin. Pool B also contains the tournaments sole undefeated fighter and, depending on the draw, a potential rematch of an absolute barn-burner from earlier this year.

Carlos 'Flying Fijian' Hicks is a student of Knees of Fury promoter and former world champion Ethan 'The Iceman' Shepp, whose young gym House of Pain is going from strength to strength. He secured a second round knockout win over 'Lethal' Harley Love last month after they duked it out at Knees of Fury 48 in Hamilton. It was far from a cakewalk for Hicks though, as he was dropped for an eight count at the end of the first round. If that's anything to go by, a potential quarter-final fight between the two doesn't bode well for their chances of escaping undamaged. Look for Hicks' slick combination punching and considerable toughness and mental fortitude.

'Lethal' Harley Love is Pool B's sole Auckland fighter, representing the legendary City Lee Gar gym. Love has an excellent kicking game but, like all Lee Gar fighters, is equally as well-versed in all aspects of stand-up fighting. With teammates such as Brad Riddell, Slava Alexeichik and Richie Hardcore, Love certainly has the tools to get the job done. A rematch with Hicks could very well go his way, and this time it'll be on home soil.

Brook 'On the Button' Sutton, representing Diamond Star Muay Thai, will travel all the way from  Dunedin to put his undefeated record on the line at the King in the Ring 72III. With seven wins and no losses, he will certainly be confident in his chances heading in to the tournament. He's relatively inexperienced however, and that could work against him should he come up against the likes of Edwin Samy or Blood Diamond.

Brook 'VC' Haami, fighting out of MTI Wellington, is in a similar situation. With just eight fights to his name, he has considerably less experience than some of his opponents. However, if TY Williams can take out the crown with just six fights, there's no reason fellow Wellingtonian Haami can't do the same. Haami also has two knockouts on record, and comes out of the prestigious MTI gym, so he's far from out of his depth at the King in the Ring.

The reserve fight features ETK's Josh 'The Method Man' Marsters up against Helensville Thai Boxing representative Mike 'The Farmer' Fotheringham.

Superfights

Sam ‘Tha Shank’ Hill (SMAC Gym) vs Nathan ‘Nasty Boy’ Robson (Bulldog Gym, AUS)

Joey ‘The Filipino Kid’ Baylon (ETK) vs Terry ‘Turbo’ Kounsavat (Bulldog Gym, AUS)

Pati ‘The Arsenal’ Afoa (ETK) vs Simon ‘Mayhem’ Maait (Bulldog Gym, AUS)

Paulo ‘The Barbarian’ Lakai (ETK) vs Dan ‘The Pain’ Roberts (Bulldog Gym, AUS)

Get your tickets to King in the Ring 72III here.

As always, King in the Ring 72III will be supporting Paw Justice.

 

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